Many people who have survived complicated, overwhelming circumstances get confused about why they seemed to be “fine” at the time— but then kind of fall apart in the weeks, months, or even years after.
It can feel strange to kind of coast through what most people would consider a traumatic event— only to melt down AFTER the event is behind us, when we “should” feel safe.
Our nervous system very often knows how to get us THROUGH trauma.
One of the ways it gets us THROUGH it without us falling to pieces is, it compartmentalizes the impact of what’s happening to us so we can prioritize survival.
Many survivors are familiar with the narrowing of attention that happens when we’re under the gun.
Even when things seem overwhelming, even when the pressure seems like it’s mounting, many survivors experience an almost Zen-like state of calm as they deal with what needs to be dealt with.
Often we’re even complimented on our ability to handle what to the entire world looks like an incredibly stressful or painful situation.
However, it’s very often AFTER we get a little bit of time and distance on what happened that we really start to feel the impact.
It’s a lot like getting a sunburn on a summer day: you may not feel it AS you’re out in the sun…but that evening, after the sun has gone down, everything starts to sting; and the next morning, you can barely move, because the sunburn is so painful.
Sometimes the impact of trauma can be so delayed, or is so seemingly unrelated to what we went through, that we’re not at all sure it’s related.
Many trauma responses may seem almost random when we first experience them. There’s often not a straightforward connection between what happened to us and the thoughts and body sensations we’re experiencing now.
Often we convince ourselves that what we’re experiencing isn’t even a trauma response— maybe we’re just “weak” or “crazy” or “childish.”
Often we do this because that’s what we’ve been told by someone.
It’s absolutely frustrating to try to wade through our own responses and reactions, trying to make what we do and feel make sense— especially when our memories are a little (or a lot) fragmented, as trauma survivors’ memories often are.
Don’t get up in your head about making all of your symptoms, reactions, and responses “make sense.”
After all: you’re experiencing what you’re experiencing, whether it “makes sense” or not.
The commonality between may trauma responses is that they are some part of you trying to protect itself (or you); and/or, they are some part of you enacting what they think they (or you) “deserve.”
Whether a reaction, feeling, or behavior is or isn’t a trauma response, we’re going to get a LOT more mileage out of meeting it with curiosity and compassion rather than frustration and shame.
I know. I hate it when my body and nervous system throw up confusing, inconvenient, and energy-consuming reactions and responses, too.
i wish they didn’t. I wish my body and nervous system just did what I told them to do.
But if there’s a part of me that’s carrying something that it needs me to know about or it needs my help with, it’s going to keep trying to get my attention until I listen.
Don’t be shocked when you seem to have a response to something that you thought you’d handled well.
The truth is, maybe you did handle it well in the moment— after all, you got through that moment.
Now your body and emotions are catching up.
They’ve been holding back while you did what you did to get through— and we can be ENORMOUSLY grateful to the parts of you that held on to those feelings and reactions while you attended to the business of getting by.
Now we have to be open to feeling what we feel— or, rather, feeling what we didn’t have the safety to feel in the moment.
Easy does it.
The parts of you that got you through, need you now.