In my private practice, I will often hear people referring to their painful patterns as “trauma”, or their pain as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). However, I can’t actually sense that specific signature in their system.
And sometimes, the reverse happens; someone will tell me about their “problem” as if it’s just a silly challenge they’re having a hard time navigating, but I can sense it is active trauma or even PTSD. I can see the signatures of something much more acute than what they are describing.
I think that it helps to have it spelled out very clearly. So here are some basics to consider.
Dysfunction is a conditioning or toxic pattern. It is felt as a dark, painful pattern that triggers fear. That fear comes in the shape of control, worry, doubt, confusion, panic, etc.
Example: when your partner/kid doesn’t communicate to you about what time he/she will be home, and you start to feel abandoned and start to get pissed off, or even threatened that he/she won’t come home or is in danger, even though you know this is ridiculous and not real. That is what we might call a challenging pattern that needs healing. This would be a dysfunctional pattern.
Trauma, is like adding an additional electrical charge around the dysfunction.
Example: When your partner or kid doesn’t communicate, you go into a panic, and your body freezes, and you can’t remember suddenly and your mind goes blank. It’s like there is ice inside you, and you very suddenly disconnect from your environment. There is fear present, obviously lots of fear, but more is a feeling of being lost. Perhaps lost somewhere inside of yourself.
PTSD is an electrical fence that is connected to a series of electrical fences, and once one goes off the rest go into alarm, which makes the first go off again. It’s almost like dogs barking in suburb at night: one dog starts barking at a sound or a raccoon or something, and the others soon follow, which inspires the first to start in again even though the raccoon has passed, and it goes on and on and on. If you can imagine, this is what PTSD feels like inside of you.
PTSD in Detail
I happen to be so familiar with this particular form of pain that I feel like I could document every single sensation. So, perhaps this is more detail than you need, but I want to map a number of different patterns to PTSD.
For instance a soldier returning from war has a signature slightly different than a child who has been in those same wars. But both of those are different again from pattern of PTSD of a child who has been methodically and ritualistically tortured, and that is still different than a adult who lived in an internment camp, etc. (I work with a lot of survivors!)
But the general signatures for all is a metallic or tin flavor in the mouth which is because of large amounts of adrenaline on chronic cycle in their bodies. Then there is an immediate low or high level of dissociated experience. This sometimes feels like becoming a very small child—not acting like one, but actually becoming one, seeing through the eyes of a three year old, at a world that is only filtered by a three-year-old’s understanding, including feeling your body as you did when 3 years old. Or the dissociation takes the form of a profoundly clear sense that you are no longer the body—feeling like you are not here, instead you are somewhere above or below yourself, or somewhere deeply hidden in the body, and something else is animating my body. Sometimes it’s an entirely different personality, or just a mystery is running the ship. Sometimes it feels like a full blackout, which is to say, nothing is noticed until a few hours to days later when you come back to reality and you notice you don’t have recall for the last few days. (Or in my case, aren’t sure what town you are in, or what happened to your car!) And when you track back, you recognize missing hours or days. Sometimes it includes a profound panic, sometimes it just feels empty. And it can take anywhere from 3 hours to 3 days to come back into the ground of being this person once again, but only once they are in a safe environment. (In my book, Freedom vs Fear, I talk in more detail about this system and how innocent and perfect this behavior is and how intelligent a system PTSD really is. I also share about how to navigate the time it takes to return.)
with both traumatic signatures and PTSD signatures, you will have these 4 ongoing challenges:
1) Very reactive to urgency.
If you have some event or situation that is “urgent”, a person with trauma will go suddenly into an “overdrive” and over-compensate, and singly focus on the appeal. I put a lot of importance on this because we need to understand this about ourselves. Our friends and family can innocently come to us with “life emergencies”—like a cat is sick, or a boyfriend didn’t call—and if we don’t understand that we will respond as if its an actual life and death emergency, with our body systems slowing down and adrenaline taking over. Trauma leaves our body in an overactive state and we can’t organically calm ourselves and have clear discernment.
Therefore we need to know how to define an emergency for ourselves, and how to mostly become non-responsive to emergency-like situations. We need to train ourselves to turn away and let other people bring in solutions. Or at least pause for a good amount of time to clarify what is real before it costs your system a lot metabolically.
2) A seemingly very real understanding that life is pain, and pain is life.
This feels like a chronic running sensation and thought in the background that feels like “If I’m not in pain, something must be wrong.” or “If this isn’t painful, its not something I can trust”. Which, sadly, makes relationships very dramatic and toxic.
This is so, so common for traumatized individuals. There is such a deep groove of painful experience that makes it almost too hard to relax and lean on something more effortless, or find ease. Ease is just not “real” or trustworthy, and it feels too rudderless, like it is not going to last.
3) Overwhelmed into defeat with very small triggers.
By small trigger, I mean something like the oven door didn’t close all the way and the cake didn’t cook in time. Or you feel cold in the night, but it would wake people up to get a blanket. I mean small.
It’s tragic how these very small life events will create a feeling of being totally overwhelmed in a person with active trauma. And it’s important to know this in advance, because knowing it is a trigger and not “true” can empower the person to creatively problem-solve, pulling them right out of overwhelm and into creative solutions instead.
4) Tons of buried rage.
Often surprising to the traumatized person is how intense and how vast their rage is. Usually this is deeply buried, and more available are feelings of grief or depression. However the rage is there, and explodes in the same way contents under immense pressure tend to explode. And those explosions are really mysterious, and painful for everyone. And then usually the traumatized are shamed for exploding.
But trauma is created by actions that were committed in total offense to your personhood—basically, a violence that denied your rights as a person. And so, intelligently, there is a lot of anger around that. Assuming we all understand that anger is the expression of a boundary, specifically when a boundary has been crossed, over-stepped. And if that anger is repressed, which also means pressurized, it will explode and then be terribly misunderstood and possibly harmful.
And sadly, the traumatized do tend to hide their rage, so often it explodes unconsciously. Someone with trauma is usually mortified when they become conscious and then recall that big exploding rage out. And because it’s unconscious, it can’t be helped. And then, well, we all the know the public and family shaming and blaming and accusation that gets attributed to exploding rage. And we all know how that just adds to more buried rage, eventually becoming a huge lethal load.
It’s worth repeating that it is often really surprising to traumatized people, once they get in touch with it, the huge amount of rage in their systems. But rage and trauma go hand in hand. Brother/sister. Necessary allies.
So, hopefully this article gives you some sense of clarity around what your system is generally dealing with, or clarifies your parents for you, or your partner, or your kid. And perhaps this can open the door to even more of an honest dialogue.
All my love and blessings,