“Traumatised people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: the past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” (Van Der Kolk, 2015)
This quote above is from a training session I delivered today. I have seen it before, and it always has the same effect…t makes me want to just stop dead in my tracks and hang my head.
There is a lot of talk about trauma-informed practice and…from what I have seen lately…lots of people claim to know what it is but struggle to put it into practice. Now that is not a criticism . It’s an observation.
I mean we all know about Trauma…don’t we? We all know that Trauma is a person’s emotional response to a distressing experience….don’t we?
Let’s do an activity…get a little interactive….
What are some of the emotional or physical symptoms that a person can experience from trauma? Really think about this.
What did you come up with?
Some of the answers could have been.
- digestive symptoms.
- racing heart.
- feeling jumpy.
- Shock, denial, or disbelief.
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating.
- Anger, irritability, mood swings.
- Anxiety and fear.
- Guilt, shame, self-blame.
- Withdrawing from others.
- Feeling sad or hopeless.
- Feeling disconnected or numb.
It’s a big old list and many of us would have just skimmed read over that, desensitised to many of the words or the feelings they may provoke.
Those who have experienced trauma don’t have the luxury of skimming over the words or the feelings associated with them.
“Traumatised people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: the past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort”
Can you imagine the feeling of feeling unsafe inside your own body….imagine it now…I will help you…?
Imagine you feel like you can’t trust your own self. That you question reactions and sensations daily….hourly….
For example… I don’t know
Imagine that every time you smell the after-shave Cool Water, your body reacts in a certain way. It’s like you get butterflies in your stomach and feel sick at the same time. You are taken back to a moment…a sequence of moments….surrounded by boys you trust…all dressed up ready to go out to the rave. You and 3 of them get in a lift from the 14th floor of the tower block to the ground floor to get the cab to the rave…and then…the change in the atmosphere…the darkening of their eyes….and you can’t keep your heart calm…and the sick rises as you think…No, not again. I thought they said that was the last time …and you suddenly start to breathe quickly …faster and faster….until you are making little gasps and you are making a silly little gasping noise that you can’t stop because you don’t like it when they cover your mouth….and you are feeling all this whilst standing in Tesco, behind a schoolboy Infront of you has splashed Cool Water aftershave on that morning and is now paying for something in front of you. And you have to leave…without your shopping….and you stand gasping out the front of Tesco, trying to hide your face so no one asks, “are you ok” and you feel stupid and weak and angry that you can’t just go bloody shopping without all this happening.
Just as an example
Another example could be….
When someone you know…or not….goes in for a great big hug…and your instinct is to make yourself small, pull your arms in to slightly cover your breasts so they don’t grab them Despite the person hugging you right now is your 50-year-old best friend who has no interest in your breasts) and as they hug you, every part of your body reacts. The closeness, the feel of the skin, The smell of the hair, The warmth, the strength in the hug. Imagine every time you go back to a place… different place each time…and its so real to your body that you are overwhelmed by the sensations. You want to push them away intently. Want to scream. Want to scream this bloody house down
WHY DO YOU NEED TO TOUCH ME?
Why do you need to grab me? Like a big bear. And you grab me and that hug…my body knows what that hug means…what you want…and it’s disgusting…what you do to me. Because you are a big man, and I am a child. I AM A CHILD….And yet you will force yourself on me…. won’t you !
No matter what o do you are going to make me. You’re going to hug me and touch me where you like
But actually…that’s in the past. And right now, your best mate is just hugging you goodbye. Because they forgot … for a moment ….about the no hugging. And why shouldn’t you hug people you love….I wish I could
So, you see, you can’t trust your body (or mind) as it reacts, and it feels unsafe as “the past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort”
“Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside”
Ignoring my gut feeling has been the downfall of my life for many years. I have made some of the worst “choices” by ignoring my gut and numbing awareness of it.
Because it’s never-ending
Imagine being bombarded with texts all day. Day and night, and these texts are saying things like
“Don’t trust her”
“She thinks you’re lying”
“He is no good for you”
“ You need to walk away”
And you get these texts over and over …but actually it’s your life and you can do what you please! Maybe I don’t want to keep starting over! Maybe I don’t want to have to keep trying!
Maybe I can change him actually!! Have you ever thought about that…what…yes, I know that he takes drugs, but he will stop… how do I know? KMT because he said! What do you mean he said that before…fine…so what shall I do…raise these kids alone…ha-ha… very funny. As if I can raise kids alone…I’m a mess….No one else will want me…you know what…I’m blocking these “texts”…
Because blocking is easier than dealing with.
Trauma is a powerful thing
It can make you stop being your authentic self
They learn to hide from their selves
Have you ever had to hide from yourself?
Maybe that’s too deep
Have you ever been able to not look at yourself in the mirror because you disgust yourself? No…
So, you’re telling me you have never looked in the mirror and just thought…you are pathetic. Look at you. You stand out here, fighting for kids when you could not even stand up for yourself. Imagine they knew…all the truths. Your truth…imagine they knew about the time…OI…don’t look away from me…slag. Yes, that’s right….God your ugly when you cry…anyway…slag…imagine if they knew about the time when you had to have sex with two olders who hated each other. Yes yes…don’t even try to ignore it…When he said …that he wanted to have sex with you and then you go straight to his enemy so that the enemy would be having sex with “His leftovers” what did he call it…yes you remember…don’t try it…say it…he said, “Make him stir my porridge”. And you did…nasty. Imagine they knew…all these people that look to you to help them….slag…what was you…14…you should lock yourself away, so they don’t see
No…you don’t look in the mirror and say that
That’s just me then
Anyway …after that happens a few time, alongside everything else…. you learn to hide from yourself.
Now, this is a lot harder than it sounds. You can’t do it like hide and seek…and just go and hide in a dark room. Oh no…that won’t do.
You must create a whole web of stiff to hid from yourself…with lies and secrets and denial. You have to pretend to be someone else and that means being around people you would not usually be around and dig things that you actually don’t want to …and the who time the hidden you is fighting to get out SO you may have to keep her quiet…lots of alcohol does the trick…but also throwing yourself into work or having unhealthy relationships is as good. Nothing better to hide from yourself than being in a relationship with someone who is abusive…you can’t hear your hidden self when you have someone making your life hell…
I think that’s what trauma feels like. Hypothetically of course
So, when people say they are trauma-informed….are they….are you….and are they putting this into their practice…like…for real.
I can look in the mirror now. Right at myself (Not in the evening of course…well….because of ghost, candy man and such …if you know you know… but the rest of the time…I can look at myself and know that voice and the feelings…is trauma.)
Trauma-informed….because we can’t heal if you don’t get it.