Recognizing Trauma Responses

We all have different stories, tragedies, little secrets that become big that become destigmatization if they cease being secret, but if we’ve lived with trauma for a significant amount of time (especially childhood trauma) we may not notice how big of an impact they‘be had on our lives. Our personalities and behaviours have adopted trauma responses as being natural. Understanding and identifying these responses takes time but quickly it will be evident that it’s a necessary practice.

My trauma tells me I need to be defensive, that I must protect the wounded child inside me whenever my circumstances trigger feelings that remind me of being a child. There are unlimited forms of trauma responses as we each have our own personal experiences and ways of developing alongside our shame, fear, grief, blame.

The first step is knowing what you feel— a cycle of avoiding the details keeps ignorances control over us. Being aware is painful, paying attention is excruciating, because to survive we’ve forced ourselves to go through the motions and shut that part of our brain off. Whether dissociation or general disconnection, having a priority or reason to practice self awareness is the actual first step. Why do you want to know what exactly it is you’re feeling? Will it help your communication skills and stabilize your relationships? Yes. Will it bring you peace and the beginning of acceptance? Yes. Will you feel more secure and safer in your new life and recovery? Yes.

If you shut down at times, try to recognize a pattern. If you explode with anger, what usually precedes the outburst? If you experience panic attacks, sudden sobbing fits or other mood changes, think to before the onslaught or shift. It takes copious amounts of energy but the returns will be great and we’ll begin to re-energize from being aware of draining triggers and knowing how to cope.

Almost always, there’s some aspect of a reminder. A change in the tone of someone’s voice may put you on guard. An expectation adjacent to an old cruel one may send you into a spiral of fear and betrayal. Environmental stressors such as flooding or household repairs may harken to the insecure or unsafe homes of your past. A pregnancy announcement, a request for a favour, a theft or burglary, a simple disagreement, there are unlimited triggers and some don’t play by the book but the more we practice at identifying trauma responses, the more natural it becomes.

Our brains make connections we aren’t always privy to. Our consciousness has been told it’s too dangerous, that it’s better to let our maladaptive coping mechanisms handle everything. When our brain takes us out of the drivers seat, we have to take the time to ask for permission. “I’m not the person I once was, I can handle knowing what’s going on inside my head. I deserve to know how I feel and why I feel this way.” Taking a deep breath and writing out exactly what we feel can help to start a conversation because the words are no longer solely in your head, you can truly respond to them.

You may read, ‘I feel small, insignificant, like I don’t matter and neither does my opinion’ and realize you feel like a child again. ‘I feel pressured, trapped in a scenario I have no control over.’ A past relationship, a parent, a job, or other situation which subjugated and controlled you to the point of trauma, we may notice that we feel. Same way we did back then. What ways are our situations the same? What factors have lead us to feel this way?

What’s different? That’s how we remember that no, we’re not there, we’re not that person, this is a trauma response.

Whenever I realize why I feel the way I do, I experience great relief. Not knowing is worse than knowing. It takes time to get to the point where this fact is obvious, because sometimes truth seems horrible and horrifying, but eventually the frustration and chaos of obliviousness takes a serious toll. Understanding is relief because it’s progress, it’s change, and it’s apart of regaining control over one’s life.

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