Why Did My Brain Betray Me?
The Betrayal of The BrainI often hear similar statements from the Wounded Souls who have been through trauma. While the "what happened" is unique for each person, the responses to trauma are very similar. How the brain reacts is not unique, but each individual does not know that yet. Not in the beginning of the process. We begin the unfolding of the story of the trauma. As mentioned in my previous post, "It's OK To Not Be OK," the person needs time and space to find the words fitting the event. At first, it may be possible the individual will not define what happened to them as "Trauma" or "Abuse." These words have a meaning to them they do not want as part of their story. These words are often connected with the word "Victim." and the word "Victim" leads to the individual's sense of helplessness and powerlessness. Perhaps it is a similar feeling to what they felt during the event that led them to seek help. Or perhaps it is the feeling they felt during the years the turmoil and confusion was a part of their lives. No one chooses to be a "Victim." No one chooses "Abuse." These words are often connected to false shame about what happened. The individuals in my office start to have relief from the false shame when I explain the Abuse happened to them. The Abuse or Trauma does not define them. These definitions are reluctantly accepted as the denial slowly lifts and the reality of what happened is accepted. We begin talking about how the trauma still haunts them today. The sadness of the trauma sinks into the room. And this is when I hear these words. Words filled with shame, sorrow and pain.
- "I didn't say anything."
- "I didn't do anything."
- "I froze."
- "I didn't tell anyone."
The Natural Responses of The BrainHow the brain responds, when the body is exposed to a traumatic event, often begins to relieve women, men, and children of the false shame and self-doubt they have carried for years. They hear about the Fight, Flight, Freeze or Faint natural responses of the brain. They begin to feel the "Me, too" of trauma. The shame begins to lift again.
The ResponsesOf course they didn't tell anyone. Of course they didn't know what to do. Of course they weren't prepared to fight effectively. The definition of Trauma is "A deeply distressing event." It is an event or time period that is not common in a person's typical day-to-day experience. Their brain had no file for the situation. There was no training before hand to know what to do. And so, the brain went on auto-pilot. The brain protected them. You see, the brain is designed to protect us from psychological and physical harm. It will actually go off-line in order to spare us from being overloaded by the trauma. This is often when the person lost words. This is when the person didn't do anything. This is the "deer in the headlights" experience. It is the natural response. "If I don't move, maybe it will stop." "I just froze." "I didn't know what to say." Yes, they just froze. Yes, the brain decided the pain was too much to bear. It went off-line.
Four Automatic ResponsesThe brain is an amazing and complex organ. At the base of our brains is the amygdala. It is almond-shaped and not large at all. Yet, this little part of our brain is responsible for all of our Automatic Responses. Neuroscientists teach us there are four ways the brain responds when the body is exposed to a traumatic event. Fight, Flight, Freeze or Faint are the spontaneous reactions the brain gives to the body being overwhelmed with trauma. Each one has a strength or weakness. However, the one that protects us the most is the one the brain goes to when we just want to disappear. When the fright or pain of what is happening is just too intense. When there is not a file in the brain to know what to do when this happens. Martial arts, self-defense courses, abuse prevention are all things people can learn to protect themselves from further abuse. They can create a file in their brain of when __________, then I ___________. But the truth is, the brain may still go off-line. The trauma may still cause the brain to go into "shock" or "freeze." Because the definition of trauma lets us know - we had no file. This situation is unique somehow, and the brain just does what the brain is supposed to do. The brain protects. It doesn't betray. It protects from facing a reality it is not ready to acknowledge. With this new learning, we continue The Sacred Journey Through Trauma.
The above is meant to be encouragement. It is not professional therapy, but good sound advice from someone who has walked countless individuals through trauma-From surviving to thriving through A Brave Compassionate Journey. If you are interested in meeting with me professionally, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-268-3558. We will see if I am a good fit for you. If you would are interested in a resource for Self-Care, I co-authored a book with Steve Austin. You can order Self-Care for the Wounded Soul: 21 Days of Messy Grace.