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Socially Acceptable & Unacceptable Trauma Responses

Have you ever noticed there are socially acceptable & socially unacceptable responses to trauma?  There are.  The especially interesting part is the socially acceptable ones are the most unhealthy trauma responses & encouraged.

Some socially acceptable trauma responses are:

  • being a workaholic.
  • focusing on career over family.
  • never taking breaks.
  • being over scheduled or too busy.
  • sleeping too little.
  • excessive exercising.
  • under eating.

Some socially unacceptable trauma responses are:

  • taking time off to relax.
  • crying or being angry about the trauma.
  • admitting that it still upsets you, even years after the trauma.
  • taking anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication.
  • seeing a counselor.
  • severing ties with an abuser.
  • discussing the abuse.

When you live with PTSD or C-PTSD, trying to heal is tough enough.  It’s not easy, even under the best of circumstances.  It’s much worse though when you have people telling you that your healthy coping skills aren’t healthy, & insisting you instead use unhealthy coping skills.

Having been through narcissistic abuse, I can vouch for the insecurity that comes from it.  It takes a conscious focus on my part not to assume someone’s criticism of me is right & to consider what is said before assuming I’m wrong, & frankly I’m not always good at this.  When someone tells me I should use one of the unhealthy trauma responses instead of my healthy ones, naturally I figure they’re right & feel shame.  No doubt many of you reading this experience the same type of response.

You can learn to deal with the dysfunctional response in these types of situations.

Remember, the world thinks quite skewed in the area of mental health.  No one bats an eye at someone who goes to a doctor with a broken leg, yet many of those same people claim someone is weak for seeing a counselor for their mental health problems.  That is just one example of this skewed thinking.  Anyway just because so many people think this way doesn’t mean they are right.  What others think about how you heal isn’t important.  What is important is that it works for you.

Use logical thinking.  When someone criticizes you for how you approach your emotional healing, ask yourself if what they say makes sense & why.  For example, if someone says you’re being lazy, you need to keep busy instead of taking time off, think about this statement for a moment.  How would keeping busy benefit you?  Sure, you might be busy enough not to think about your problems for a bit, but that won’t last forever.  Besides, ignoring emotions means they will come out in unhealthy ways later.  So many addicts became addicts because they tried to avoid facing their own traumas.  Considering all of this, do you really think this person gave you good advice?

Another thing to consider is people view things through the lens of their own experiences.  Many people who are the quickest to judge others’ healing journeys are ones who also have been abused, but refuse to deal with that.  Rather than be inspired by someone else facing their pain, they get upset by it.  They often think because they aren’t facing their past trauma, they are over it.  They’re functioning just fine while someone else is suffering with C-PTSD.  In their mind, clearly that person is weak & could learn a thing or two from the person without C-PTSD.  They honestly think they’re helping by telling the other person what they do, which involves their socially acceptable trauma responses.

Remember, just because some people think your approach to healing is wrong doesn’t mean that is true.  You have to do whatever works best for you.  What others think shouldn’t matter.  All that should matter to you is that what you’re doing helps you to heal.

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More Than Just Fight Or Flight

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Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Mental Health, Narcissism

There Is More Than Fight Or Flight

Most everyone is aware of the fight or flight response.  This describes how a person reacts to extremely stressful situations, such as being attacked.

Fight means you aggressively fight back, because you believe you can defeat the danger.  When it happens, you feel intense anger, may cry or punch people or things, you may grind your teeth & chances are excellent your stomach will be in knots.

Flight means you run from the danger, because you believe you can’t defeat it.  When it happens, you feel fidgety & anxious.  You can’t stay still.  You want to run for the hills immediately.

There are two other responses beyond fight or flight that are seldom mentioned.  Freezing & fawning are the other two responses.

Freezing means when you’re unable to act in these awful situations.  You can’t think clearly.  Think of a deer in headlights.  That deer sees the danger heading straight for him, but is frozen in place.  This happens when you believe you can’t escape or defeat the attacker.  Freezing literally makes you cold when it happens.  Your body feels heavy & hard to move, sometimes it can feel numb as well.

Lastly, there is fawning.  This happens when in an acutely stressful situation, you do your best to comply with their attacker as an attempt to save yourself.  Like freezing, it happens when you believe you can’t escape or defeat your attacker.  Fawning is a typical response of those who have been in abusive relationships.  People who fawn realized that fighting, flight & freezing didn’t work, which is why they resorted to fawning.  They found that concerning themselves with the well being of their abuser was their best chance at diffusing the situation.

While fight, flight, freeze & fawn are very different responses, they all share the same goal: to diffuse or preferably end the situation & protect yourself.  A problem is often people get stuck in only one or maybe two responses when each one can be helpful in different circumstances.  This is especially common in those with PTSD or C-PTSD.  The responses become habitual.  The best way I know to overcome this is to recognize what you do in such situations.  Considering how you acted, without any judgment of course, can help you to discern which acute stress responses you have used.  When faced with danger after doing this, you’re more likely to respond after a bit of thought rather than react as in acting without thought.

Another issue can be for those who have experienced multiple traumas.  We can perceive threats when there isn’t one.  It helps to learn to slow down your thinking a bit so you can decide whether or not the threat is real.  Taking a long, deep breath in then releasing it slowly only takes a couple of seconds, but it can slow your body & mind down enough to help you figure out the situation as well as the best way to respond.

Past trauma can affect your life in so many ways.  Learning to manage your responses can be one way to help yourself handle stressful & even new traumatic situations in healthier ways.

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Filed under Abuse and the Healing Journey, Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Mental Health, Narcissism

Responding vs. Reacting

Good morning, Dear Readers!

As I mentioned in my last post, last Friday, my mother called, & as she so often does, attempted to push my buttons.  A part of me wanted to just jump through the phone & smack her.  I mean really- trying to shame me by acting like I’m the only person in the entire world who likes Stephen King’s writing just because she doesn’t like scary stories?  Sheesh..  how stupid!  Anyway, I refused to show her I was angry, because that only pleases her & makes her meaner.  Instead I either pretend I didn’t notice the snide comments, or respond calmly albeit a bit sarcastically.  With the Stephen King comments, for example, She ended her tirade with “I don’t know where you get your taste in books!  I don’t like anything scary!”  (she likes fluffy, light stories only) In a somewhat cheerful tone, I simply said, “You obviously don’t know any of us Baileys then.  There is not one Bailey I know of who doesn’t like scary stories.  Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Clive Barker- you know, the GOOD authors.”  My mother responded by changing the subject.  HA!  She wasn’t amused that I didn’t respond in anger & I made a valid point.

My point of telling you this is that there is a very big difference in responding & reacting, & if you have a narcissist in your life, then you need to learn the difference!

What I did in the above story is respond.  I know this is a topic that comes up often (it’s an attempt to shame me for being different than her), so I have learned to prepare my responses ahead of time.  I maintain an air of calmness, even though inside I may not feel so calm, & speak my peace.

Reacting is much different.  Reacting is what you do when you don’t think or prepare ahead of timem.  When someone pushes your buttons, you react by yelling at them.  This is what narcissists want you to do- they feed off of the fact that they have so much control/power over you, they can make you so angry or even lose control.  If they can make you look crazy by yelling at them while they stay calm, all the better for them.  They get that power, plus they make you doubt your own sanity.

See the difference??

If you too have a narcissist in your life, then you need to master the art of responding & lose your reaction for your own mental health.  In order to do this, you need to know your narcissist.  What topics does she frequently bring up to hurt you with?  Does she use the same method with several topics?  How does she expect you to react to her antics- with anger?  Tears?

Once you know what to expect, that is half the battle!  From there, you can prepare various ways to respond.  I do this by asking God for help.  Help me to stay calm in her presence & help me to say creative things to let her know her game isn’t working- I’m not ashamed of myself for being different or feeling guilty because I don’t agree with her or whatever her evil goal is.  It’s worked wonderfully too!  Usually things just happen & I haven’t prepared myself other than to pray before seeing her.  My recent response to my mother’s nasty comments because I like Stephen King’s work was one of those incidents.  A few days prior, as I wrote about in this blog entry the other day, I learned that saying, “well ain’t that nice” was also effective, & it was also a spontaneous event.

Learning to respond rather than react has been very beneficial for me.  It has eliminated many topics that my mother used to use to try to hurt or invalidate me with.  It can do the same for you!  I doubt there is ever a way to completely eliminate all of a narcissist’s weapons of verbal destruction, but this one will eliminate plenty of them! I encourage you to give it a try.  What do you have to lose??

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