Trauma. There are all kinds. From a paper cut to a mangled car accident, and every variation in between. Trauma does not discriminate. It can happen to any one of us at any time, for any number of reasons, at any age.
Whether you’ve experienced the loss of your freshly made coffee because someone bumped into you, or the loss of your new wife who just got hit by a drunk driver, it’s how you respond that matters. In fact, some people respond better to serious trauma than others do over petty happenings.
There are, of course, appropriate responses to trauma. A dropped coffee does not warrant a nervous breakdown. The loss of a child should not be shrugged off as ‘oh well’ I can go buy another one. BUT what you do after, how you respond, how you deal, how you then live your life, whether trauma is recent or years past, will determine how you show up in the world, in your relationships and the quality of your life experience.
How you respond to trauma affects your ability to cope with daily life. And guess what? How you respond to trauma is all inside your head and felt in your body and emotions.
Michael Neill wrote a book called ‘Inside Out’. It’s a concept that says, “everything I experience is from the inside out”, no exceptions. So no matter what someone else does ‘to’ me, what colour the sky is, how loud a noise is, how crowded the train is, how urgent a deadline is, what sex feels like, whether my wife cheats on me with my best friend, or what mango and honeycomb ice cream tastes like, it’s all experienced from the inside out. It’s called ‘feeling your thinking’. We all do it. And we all experience the same things in different ways.
For those of us wanting to learn more about how to be happy, how to feel in some sort of control of our experience of life, how to maintain our emotional equilibrium, how to move through the world with relative calm and confidence, it’s what’s going on inside of your head that is key.
This week I was told by my psychologist, that quote “I will never get over my trauma”, unquote. He was specifically referring to the sexual abuse I experienced as a child. Notice I said ‘experienced’ and not ‘suffered’, because this I believe is key. If I suffer it, I play the victim. If I experience it, then how I experience it is in my control.
Can I change what has happened to me? I cannot. Can I use it to my advantage to help shape me into a better man? Hell yes.
Trauma affects the brain, most notably through things like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression. These illnesses and disorders are the direct result of trauma. They are ‘trauma responses’ and they are rife across our world. I know what the black dog of depression is like. My marriage had fallen completely apart after 15 years (actually it was in pieces long before then), and I was traumatized by betrayal and ultimate rejection.
Is it any wonder that helping people learn how to cope with these trauma responses, is a full-time job and career for many. Indeed, it’s a whole field of study. This is an indication of how deep the rabbit hole goes.
Now whilst I agree, trauma is not something you are required to ‘get over’, trauma can affect your brain. And whilst I agree, trauma can affect the way you experience the world, I also believe that trauma does not have to define you. Your responses to trauma CAN help refine the person you are today.
The brain is an amazing thing. It is an endless source of curiosity. Up until about 20 years ago, the brain was thought of as a static organ. Meaning, it was what it was, couldn’t change, heal or develop past a certain age or set of circumstances.
Since then, and thank god, we are getting closer to understanding that the brain CAN and does heal itself. It can and does learn new things, compensates for trauma, and can develop far beyond what we ever thought capable, even after terrible atrocities have been experienced.
Neuroplasticity, the understanding that the brain has the ability to change continuously throughout an individual’s life, is a major breakthrough in medical understanding. In other words, your brain can and does re-wire itself, even after serious physical damage.
Why does the exact same traumatic event or series of events, affect people entirely differently? Answer, because no two traumatic events and no two people, are ever exactly the same. How two different people respond to their experience of trauma however, is where the similarity ends.
But our responses to the trauma of emotional damage, the damage you cannot see, are the responses that hold us back, ruin marriages, and damage relationships, and a person’s sense of self.
So, think about your life today, your relationships, your marriage, the job you do, your values, the way you live your life. How much of it has been shaped not by trauma, but by your responses to trauma?
Your wife cheated on you with your best friend, for 2 years. Now you no longer trust any woman, let alone your intimate partner. Your Dad hit you when you were a kid. Now you are emotionally withdrawn and unable to feel.
Now is the time to stop choosing to let these experiences define who you are now. Stop using traumatic experiences as a reason for the way you choose to live and experience your life now. Stop blaming your life and your relationships on your pain.
I never said it was easy. It’s an energetic shift that is required. Risk and vulnerability are needed, courage and persistence, new patterns of relating need to be formed in the neural pathways of our brains. Practices of wellbeing and shifts in the way we choose to think about and respond to what has happened to us need to begin and continue. Be kind to each other. We have all experienced trauma.
Bad sh*t happens to good people and not so good people alike. It’s how you choose to respond that matters.
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