Trauma-informed daily life: not believing what the trauma tells me

There are many sides to living a more trauma-informed daily life.

A big one is to recognize when a traumatized part of me is triggered and comes alive, notice what it is telling me, and not (fully) be caught in it.

How do I recognize when trauma is triggered in me? For me, it’s often a combination of things. I may recognize that it’s the same trauma that has been triggered in the past, perhaps in similar situations. I may remember exploring and investigating it. I may see my reaction – defensiveness, hurt, anger, fear, reactivity – and recognize it as typical trauma-behavior. I may be told what’s going on by someone close to me.

The trauma always tells me something. It’s partly created and held in place by stressful stories that my mind and body, somewhere, holds as true. These stories are created as a way to protect this self, so there is inevitably rigidity, defensiveness, and a kind of obsession in these thoughts. And that’s how I recognize it when they are triggered. Do I feel, speak or act from reactivity or defensiveness? Do I hold onto a view as if my life depends on it? That’s a clear sign that this is the voice of trauma.

Sometimes, these are acute. When the trauma is triggered, its voice is different from my voice when I am more relaxed, balanced, and sane. I may say or do things that aren’t what I would say or do when the trauma is less or not activated. These are relatively easy to notice since I go a bit crazy. I am not quite myself.

Sometimes, they are more chronic. The trauma informs my long-lasting views, ways of speaking, and behavior. These are obviously harder for me to notice. Although they are often easy for others to spot, which is why it’s important to invite feedback from others and be open and receptive to it when it happens.

I noticed one of these in me earlier today. A Facebook friend wrote a dismissive post about people who want certain services to be public (transportation, kindergartens, nursing homes, etc.). I noticed I felt hurt and that my mind jumped into a metaphorical trench, ready to battle his position. I saw it as it happened, recognized it as trauma behavior (although it all happened internally in me), and allowed the internal storm to pass. I still don’t know exactly what trauma this is from but I plan to explore it in the next few days.

These traumas can be big or small, central or more peripheral to how we see ourselves and how we are in the world. Traumas are often developmental, formed over time as our response to an ongoing and difficult or overwhelming situation. Our system created the trauma to try to deal with it and in an attempt to protect us. Traumas are often inherited from our parents and sometimes the wider culture.

The more central the trauma, the more it colors our whole perception of ourselves and the world, our views, and our behavior and life. And the more difficult it may be to notice it since it’s the water we swim in and have swum in for a long time, often since childhood. And, as mentioned above, the more difficult it can be to recognize it.

Trauma also has a role in politics. Whenever we have rigid views on something, it’s often rooted in trauma. It’s the mind’s way to try to protect itself, based on something painful that happened in the past. I have an acquaintance who is deeply committed to holistic health and caring for nature, and yet is equally deeply against any ideas of climate change or ecological crisis, and she doesn’t miss any opportunity to let everyone know about it. To me, this looks like trauma behavior (it seems reactive, irrational, and almost a life-and-death matter). It’s not my place to mention it to her, but it’s my place to notice if and when I do something similar.

To end, here is a brief list of trauma-behavior signs I look for: Reactivity. Blame. Guilt. Defensiveness (defending a view or position). Dehumanizing others (or oneself). Inability to adapt views to new information. And sometimes acting out of character, or in ways that seem odd to others. (There may be other explanations for this.) Anger and sadness, if combined with the other signs, can also suggest trauma.

As always, this is all to be taken with a big grain of salt but it can be helpful as a general pointer or guideline.

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