Over the weekend I held a lunchtime workshop around a new approach to trauma. Many people signed up and I was looking forward to having a conversation around this interesting topic. But then life happened.
I’d been staying with my sister and my 6 year-old nephew in Hungary. We’d been out in the morning and when we got back to the house, our cat was lying in front of the door with a broken hip. We didn’t know what happened, if she fell from somewhere really high or got hit by a car, but she was in pain and couldn’t walk.
Peanut, the cat is my nephew’s first pet. She was adopted by my family as a tiny kitten, last year. My nephew and her have a special bond, so you can imagine how devastated he was seeing Peanut suffer. This is what trauma looks like, a simple event like this can be overwhelming for a child.
A few decades ago, when people talked about trauma, they were thinking wartime horrors, PTSD, abuse, sexual abuse etc. Since then, thanks to Dr Gabor Mate and other great figures in the field, we understand that trauma is not the event itself, but the overwhelm caused by the event. As we are all different, the level of what we find too much is also different.
The Timeline of Trauma
- There is an event or experience that we find overwhelming
- We have no control over the outcome of that event
- Our bodies react the way they must react, a natural biological response that is there to protect us (going into fight or flight, disassociating etc)
- We get stuck in the nervous system response as we don’t know how to regulate or make sense of the event
- We can’t process the overwhelm
- As a result, we feel shame, we feel different, we feel that there is something wrong with us.
- Shame can perpetuate the negative effects even further: we get disconnected (from ourselves and others), we see the world through the lense of trauma – unsafe (we need to control everything, know all the details in order to feel safe).
- With the loss of safety our window of tolerance gets narrow aka we get triggered easily. When the nervous system is activated in trauma response, the pre-frontal cortex, the part of the brain that is responsible for logical thinking goes offline, it is inaccessible. As a result, our relationships suffer, we get emotional in disagreements, we feel attacked, we attack back or avoid difficult conversations, so our boundaries may get violated often, then we feel used and unseen.
The destructive effects of untreated trauma show up in every part of our lives, mostly in our relationships.
I know this sounds devastating, but it is possible to heal from trauma! We can get unstuck: we can learn how to overcome the adversities caused by the event.
The first three points of the trauma timeline will inevitably happen as life happens. We cannot avoid coming across overwhelming events (unless we numb out completely, which in itself is a trauma response), we cannot control everything and our nervous system is designed to respond to events. The points afterwards have much more significance in how not to get traumatised.
Start by acknowledging that your response to the event is completely normal, there is nothing wrong with you. A child will need somebody to validate their experience and show them how to process it.
I would also recommend starting to work with a professional, either a therapist or a trauma specialist coach who can give guidance and provide a safe space for the shame to disappear. The more we talk about things we are ashamed of, the easier it gets. With the help of a professional we can find a way to take our power back and to reframe our experience.
What happened to Peanut and my nephew? While my sister took the cat to the vet, I looked after my nephew. He only had one look at the injured kitty and told us that he wanted to watch cartoons. This response may seem odd to you, but it is incredibly healthy – he found the event overwhelming and needed to disassociate and make himself feel better until he was ready to process the experience.
I sat with him on the couch watching TV, he cuddled up with me and I held him for a long time. This is co-regulation, I was calm and was using my nervous system to help him regulate himself. After about half an hour he asked me about the vet and if the cat will be okay. First, I told him what I was feeling (sadness and fear but also hope), helping him make sense of his own emotions, then we went into practical mode and discussed what would happen at the vet.
Peanut is doing fine, as a kitty that loves running around, she is not very pleased with the limitations put on her, but healing quickly. My nephew is part of the Peanut’s healing, checking on her, feeding her and discussing all medical options.
I did manage to hold the workshop and was honest about having a rough couple of hours beforehand. I even asked the attendees to do a quick grounding exercise with me so I can get centred.
If there are things you need to discuss with a professional, but unsure how that would go, you can book an introductory session with 50% discount this month.
Be one of the six introspective explorers, who gets a bespoke coaching session with me. If you want to learn more about how to overcome patterns you learned as a result of trauma, I would be honoured to be your guide on this journey.