Trauma responses aren’t “choices.” They’re conditioned reflexes.
They’re our nervous system having made a connection between something it’s sensing now, and something that actually happened back then.
Something I wish more people understood— or acknowledged, anyway— about trauma responses is, they are responses to ACTUAL things that ACTUALLY happened.
A lot is made about how trauma responses aren’t proportional to what’s “really” going on— and that’s true, in the very limited sense of “what’s going on right here, right now.”
But trauma responses ARE responses to REALITY.
We didn’t invent them.
We didn’t ask for them.
Most of us would MUCH rather NOT be experiencing them.
But just like you can’t shut down a reflex, we can’t shut down trauma responses by merely preferring not to experience them.
We CAN mold our responses to them, though.
We CAN make ourselves less vulnerable to them.
We can get to the point where they don’t freak us out or profoundly interrupt our day or our functioning.
But that doesn’t mean we “control” them.
We INFLUENCE our trauma responses— but that’s not quite the same thing, isn’t it?
The temptation is to be hard on ourselves BECAUSE we have these sometimes dramatic fight, flight, freeze, fawn, or flop reactions in response to stress or triggers.
We get to thinking, what the hell is WRONG with me? Why can’t I just be…normal?
Thing is— maybe this IS normal for a body and nervous system that went through what you went through.
Maybe the “weird” thing would be for you to NOT have strong reactions, given what you’ve experienced.
Maybe what we need, rather than judgment, is compassion. And patience. And an understanding that what you’re experiencing isn’t all that “abnormal” after all.
I know— trauma responses are frustrating. As are trauma beliefs, as are trauma memories. Frustrating, sometimes scary, often painful.
Nobody reading this WANTS trauma recovery to be the thing they think about all day.
But if this is the hand we’ve been dealt— this is the hand we’ve been dealt.
I’ve never been nuts about acceptance for the sake of acceptance.
I’m like a lot of people— “acceptance” to me feels like laying down. Letting the situation win. Letting these awful feelings and inconvenient reactions win.
But it’s not.
Acceptance just means we acknowledge reality exactly as it is.
How else are we gonna change it, after all?
If we don’t accept what is, how can we know what to do, where to go, how to focus, to creat the reality we prefer.
We gotta start somewhere, and we gotta be realistic about where we’re starting.
So, yes. The lousy reality is, we have trauma responses, and they’re not choices.
But it is also the case that they are shapable. Moldable. Changeable.
Not all at once, and not in their entirety.
Change starts with acceptance.
Shedding shame starts with acceptance.
Actually changing our patterns of trauma response starts— say it with me— with acceptance.