I ran across an article forwarded to me from my bloggy friend with adopted children. I can’t find it now, but it was about helping traumatized children at school.
I was in a long meeting, with mostly the same three men listening to themselves talk, which is kind of how meetings go. I am not sure if that’s true everywhere or just here. I don’t know exactly what they are saying all the time, but I sometimes feel convinced it’s the same thing they said last time. Meanwhile, most of the rest of the room is browsing nonsense on the phones…just as I was this time.
In the article, it struck me that it provided descriptions of how trauma responses actually feel. It had never occurred to me that they do, or maybe not in the depth or complexity it does. Of course, they do. Freeze feels like your brain is slowing down. No action seems to be right.
It hadn’t occurred to me that trauma responses feel like anything. It’s easy to talk about them mechanically, as merely impulses that move you towards behaviour which enhance survival. It hadn’t occurred to me that trauma responses can feel sad.
I had the idea to track this just in my own mind. I am rushing around, breathing somewhat shallowly, very actively doing things…I am actually in flight mode.
The self-directed rage is fight.
The article mentions a state called, “submit.” I connect this to the behaviour of dogs: we have a lot of dogs here, since it’s a town. Not mostly pet dogs, but native dogs. I went jogging yesterday and the dog who decided to go along with me crouched in a drain when another, larger dog aggressively approached. That’s submit, and I believe the emotion that goes with this is shame. It’s instinctive.
In the case of the dog, the transgression was territory. She had strayed out of her territory. The larger dog was asserting his right to it. I think the people I grew up with had their own ideas about what the rules were. They didn’t check in with other people enough.
The end result, for a child, is to grow up unsure of what the rules even are. If I think I have this particular right and I stand up for it, will I be supported?
This is helpful for me, because what everyone wants to say about trauma is, “You didn’t do anything wrong.” And then I begin to wonder, “Did I?” I don’t think the shame is about having done something wrong. It’s about someone big and scary being angry at you.
Another thought I have had recently is about the inaccurate emotional mapping I have because of my mother’s lack of empathy: I have been thinking when I feel worthless, I actually feel helpless and powerless. As a child, this may have been the feeling I had in “freeze” states and the thing is that my mother may have, in those moments, told me I was bad and worthless and so I may have begun to think that the feeling itself was the source of her lack of responsiveness, rather than the other way around. Cause and effect became confused, and I understood my helplessness in the face of her anger as the cause of it.
Of course, once you get hold of that idea, it’s easy to find support for it. We all have imperfections and failures we could call up as evidence. But it didn’t start there. It started with a mother who appeared to recognize your helplessness and to name it worthlessness