Motivated states—mental states where we feel very strong emotions or very strong desires—influence our thinking. How it influences our thinking depends on the kind of motivated state it is. Anger makes us more certain and anxiety makes us notice details more. They usually make us more impulsive.

They are adaptive changes in our thinking for the most part, but when you spend a lot of time a hot state because of a traumatic past or because there is just something really wrong with your present (as in, it’s abusive), it usually doesn’t work out so well.

But if you are too “cold,” too uninfluenced by emotions in your thinking, you make bad decisions too. People lack emotions because of a brain injury can’t even gamble sensibly.

The best decisions are made in a “warm” state.

I’ve found, too, that the key to healing from trauma is trying to stay “warm.” For years, I practiced doing nothing in the grip of strong emotions. It was very useful later when the trauma work got really underway. Reducing impulsivity was terribly, terribly important, because once stuff is out of the dissociative box, you never know what you’ll get. It’s usually “hot” though, and it usually makes me think I want to do something I don’t want to do. Not doing it is just so very important, especially if it turns out to be a lot “hotter” than I expected or am prepared for.

And recently I have worked at getting things to stay “warm.” “Warm” seems to be magic. My brain stays on, it can start to make sense out of the memory, and it can link up various parts of the past and present that go together, including the emotions. It can’t do that in a hot state—it stops thinking properly then. It can’t do that in a cold state—I lose the emotions then. It has to be warm.

So the memory pops up—something triggers it out—and I just try to keep it warm. I try to dial it down, not through an act of will, which is what dissociation is to an extent—but by comforting myself and creating a calmer mood.

What comforts me might not comfort you. What comforts you probably won’t comfort me. This is something I have learned. I spent a long time trying to calm myself by grounding myself in the present. It doesn’t work for me—it triggers more trauma. Instead, I look into the past and I use what calls up those moments in the past when I felt safe—or safer than I am in my traumatic moments. That works.

Trauma work is really, really hard. Honestly, I don’t think there is much that might be harder. But I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s simple: you learn how to do nothing and you learn how to stay warm. Once you have those two things, everything else flows out of them.



12 thoughts on “Warm

  1. ridicuryder March 7, 2015 / 5:35 pm


    Hey…were’s my Headache?

    Thanks for outlining the simpler aspects of your process and the overview in the last post. You deal with so much, sometimes I get overwhelmed (I know this largely coincides with what is happening in my life). I am continually amazed by the work you do to heal…it’s wonderful that you don’t see things as bottomless and you return to these incredible depths over and over again to sort things out.


  2. Ellen March 7, 2015 / 9:45 pm

    Exactly – this is so true. It sounds simple but it isn’t at all. At first, I thought the more intense, the better – I must be getting somewhere. Nope. I’m getting retraumatized, leading to more dissociation and bad coping. It’s the warm zone that’s key. Just how to get there is a puzzle sometimes. I haven’t found the type of ‘grounding’ that is typically taught works either. Who cares about seeing five things, hearing five things, etc. Certainly not the distressed kid part. It may be more about comforting, as you’re describing.

    • Ashana M March 7, 2015 / 9:56 pm

      Hearing five things, seeing five things etc. teaches you to direct your attention better. Which is good. Then you can direct your attention into and out of the trauma. But it’s a pretty small piece. It doesn’t get you into the warm place. Not at all.

      • Ellen March 7, 2015 / 11:47 pm

        I suppose so. But then, I’m also ignoring the feelings of this hurt child – exactly what my mother did. So I’m not keen on that technique. To me, it’s a lot like dissociation – an invitation to switch out of the feelings.

      • Ashana M March 8, 2015 / 5:10 am

        It feels that way to me too. I used to try those things and it seemed like it made it all worse.

  3. H. March 7, 2015 / 10:38 pm

    I’m reminded of a couple things here. One is the DBT concepts of “reason mind” (cold), “emotion mind” (hot), and “wise mind” (dynamic synthesis between the two). Although I think what you are talking about is a little different, too–not just about which kind of information you are tuned into, but level of affect.

    The other is the Buddhist concept of “working at the edge”–you go to the edge of where you are comfortable or capable, and work there. The idea is to do the work you need to, at pace where you can’t injure yourself too much. I think stretching is a good physical metaphor: jumping into a full split could really injure your muscles and ligaments if you’re not ready. The quickest way to get there is to work your edge, to work at a pace that doesn’t harm you.

    Anyway–thank you again for your insightful, courageous writing here.

    • Ashana M March 8, 2015 / 5:13 am

      Thank you for commenting. I was at one point thinking about “wise mind” in reference to this. I do think DBT is aiming for “warm.” Borderlines end up in a traumatized state even if there’s no real severe trauma because they can’t regulate. It’s very similar in terms of how to heal it–not in terms of the problem, but in terms of that “warm” piece. But then later, when i was writing, I forgot about “wise mind.” Thanks. 🙂 Nice metaphor about the working at the edge. That makes sense.

  4. donna tucker March 8, 2015 / 11:36 am

    Simply plugging in a little and reading some of your posts. WTF. just now really plugging in to your post. I simply don’t have anything else to say other than to send a big hug and an I love you even though we only shared a small amount of time together. You are smarter than I will ever be and my problems are so first world that they don’t even matter. Know that mental midgets even like me care about people that have more complexities than I will ever understand. FIGHT ON GIRL! Feel My Huggs to you. xoxo donna

    • Ashana M March 8, 2015 / 11:52 am

      I was just thinking of you yesterday. Thanks for reading. It used to be sort of easier to read and more coherent if you were just jumping in. Then I stopped having time or energy to do more than think through my struggle for the day. Sorry. 🙂

  5. Cat's Meow March 9, 2015 / 11:07 am

    This is very much like the “window of tolerance” concept. Too much and you are hyperarroused and end up in flashbacks, other memory states, and just too intense of emotions, too little and you are hypoarroused and you don’t have access to what you need. In the middle is a person’s window of tolerance, what you call warm. The addition here is that with practice and by adding in more tools, the person can open up the window of tolerance to widen it. So at first, they may only be able to work in a tiny range (as if the window is cracked open), but over time they can slowly open up the window more and give themselves a wider working range.

    • Ashana M March 9, 2015 / 5:25 pm

      I think it is a similar concept, but I don’t think “warm” ever changes. More tools give you more ways to stay in a “warm” state, and what is warm for you might not be the same as for someone else, but I think the heat you can stand before it compromises cognition never changes very much over your lifetime. In that way, I think it’s different. I can be in a flashback and go on thinking, but it depends on the emotional intensity of the flashback.

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