When experiencing trauma, managing your emotional needs can sometimes make you feel like you are in the pit of despair. The trauma takes on a life of its own, and seems to dominate your every thought, action and experience. It’s difficult to stay in the here and now, because it all seems so overwhelming and takes you right into the deepest part of an already activated vortex that wants to pounce and take you right under and over its ability to loose control of even the slightest amount of self you may have. The overwhelm is the loss of the observer self, the inability to orient to self care.
The children’s needs may get neglected, your needs are at the bottom of the list, things don’t get done as you would like them to, and your spouse may not be around to support and help out. The cycle continues to perpetuate the trauma. It all adds up, and it does not take much to get disoriented, and emotionally dis organized.
When there is a threat to your emotional safety and security you will naturally be overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. Slow yourself down and become aware of your breathing. Your brain and body will be better equipped to assess and manage the threat. Take a deep, slow breath, and a nice slow exhale, look around the room and notice where your eyes are drawn to, and with your senses take it in and allow a moment of reprieve. This creates a calming effect by slowing down the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. Notice what the feeling may be that comes up and stay with it as long as you can. Lean into it long enough to break the pattern that keeps you stuck and detached. Notice what it is like to be with the feelings that come up and see if you can be curious about what it might be like to move away from it or towards it in incremental stages.
For some, anger is a scary place to be, because last time they were angry they lost control, and were not aware of anything but their anger. They get “stuck on.” There is no stopping when the roller coaster starts up, and you don't have the tools to orienting in the present moment. You become the anger, rather than experiencing the anger. It’s like being suspended in mid-air, and the fear up there is that they’re never going to come back down. The crash from the descent plunges them into the shame pit, failure, and depression, partly because this is not who you are, this is the trauma you are experiencing, as a result of the sexual addiction. A pattern for most that has developed and is painful. It causes many losses as well as physical pain.
Beth suffers the disparity and agony of anger outburst, beating herself up emotionally with shame and fear. “It’s my fault, what’s wrong with me, I am not normal, other people don’t react like this.” Beth grew up in a family where yelling/screaming and physically abusing each other was how they related. Beth and I are working towards befriending her anger, not being afraid of it. Noticing when it’s there and leaning into it long enough to acknowledge its presence without being engulfed and swallowed by it.
Being in an abusive family, Beth learned early on how to take care of herself. When she screamed at the top of her lungs, she got the attention she wanted, just not in the way it was meant to be. And so the pattern developed into a style that was familiar to her based on her relationships with her primary caregivers. Her fight response to threatening situations is what got her through adolescence and some difficult times as her family went through a divorce. This became the pattern of coping, amongst the drugs and suicidal attempt.
The intense activation, with no discharge/release, kept her feeling out of control. After many years of this level of activation, Beth suffered with physical problems, and partly the result of the inflammation caused from the amount of cortisol pumping through her body in the constant state of hyper arousal. She now, after years of therapy, has the capacity and tools to stay in her functional range and presence of mind to be in the here and now when her nervous system is activated.
It is normal to attempt to protect ourselves, however, without the discharge and holding unto the incomplete response it can be displaced, and in Beth’s case, it led to self-destructive behaviors. When pornography showed up in her marriage, her reactions were not any different to what had been familiar as a child. Beth wanted to learn how to control her responses appropriately and be present with what she was experiencing. She wanted to have the capacity to increase her internal awareness and ability to manage the threat in her system. Beth has become aware of her body sensations and notices the irritations and frustrations as she feels the ride coming on. She is able to take a time out to self-care, breathe, and journal her thoughts as she slows the process down. It’s a healthy way to deactivate some of the negative energy.
Remember that the process of healing is never linear. One moment you will be enraged at the addict’s behavior or lack of it, and another completely shut down. In this next exercise imagine in your mind’s eye a container that is a holding place for what you have no control of. The stuff that we sometimes try to manage may not be ours and provides an unhealthy distraction.