Getting Lost In Familiar Places
I have always loved this description of living with trauma by Daniel Siegel.
There is something in it which recognises the frustrations of finding ourselves once more overwhelmed with feelings which are a response to the past.
When you have a history of trauma, time takes on a magical quality. There are wormholes in the present which transport us instantaneously to how we experienced traumatic events. We feel the loss, the fear, the anger, the pain and the powerlessness all over again.
When we understand the way our bodies, brains and minds work together to keep us safe, this makes perfect sense. The fast, reactive system of our lower and mid brain takes over from our thinking so that we can use all of our energy to stay safe.
The memories we lay down are sensory: the sounds, smells, sights, taste, feel of what's happening. We don't attach a time and date stamp to these because that part of our brain is not active in the same way as usual. This is good in some ways because these sensory memories are always available and our system can react quickly to keep us safe when we encounter the same sensations again.
It is not so good in other ways. The sensory experiences which may trigger a protective response may be common. They might crop up when we ARE safe and don't need to protect ourselves.
When you understand trauma and the impact it has on our wellbeing, you understand triggers. You learn to notice them and can sometimes ground yourself, despite the stress response that has leapt into action. Sometimes you are caught unawares (like you were by the trauma itself) and you can find yourself lost in this place, which is familiar.
It is at best disruptive, at worst destructive. Depending on our "go to" response, it can impact on our productivity, our relationships and our wellbeing.
The follow up reaction to realising we have been lost in a trauma reaction can be one of frustration, disappointment and disillusionment. We thought we had moved on, we thought we had done this!
What I find is that kindness to self is key. Yes, I have been here before. Yes, I have followed the familiar pathways through that trauma landscape. But now I have a choice. A choice about how I speak to myself and the ways I can support myself.
If I am lost, there is a map to help me find my way.
I write about the search for safety and a map to help us find our way in this booklet, which explains the polyvagal theory and how it can support us to find an internal sense of safety.