You’ve heard the phrases about how failure breeds success. You have suffered the clichés about how much we learn from failure and how it is a blessing in disguise. You know there are lows that come before highs and highs that precede the lows. All of this makes sense in the brain. All of this is logical. Life can’t be about success only. It ebbs and flows. And it happens to the best of us. But when the bad things strike, we don’t respond from a logical place. We respond from a traumatized place. The inner parts come forward and inform you of the total apocalypse about to destroy everything you have ever held dear. And we begin to torture ourselves from the inside out.
The trauma is speaking in these moments. And when we honestly look at how these parts came to understand this world, it makes sense. Our inner parts learned to emphasize the bad. This happened because there was more of it. And we had to use all our energy and hypervigilance to clean up messes and avoid even more horrific situations. We became wired to look for the bad and ignore the good. Our attention could not be divided. Our life became a constant dance to avoid the bad or the consequences of the bad. So when bad things happen, we start spinning. The mind runs through the bad thing over and over and over looking for the best solution. The self-criticism hits hard to ensure we don’t do anything stupid. And the idea that there might be a reasonable solution is completely lost.
In these moments, it is critical that we see what is happening. We are in a flashback. We are drowning in adrenaline and experiencing a fight, flight or freeze response. In these moments, we have to bring ourselves into an aware state that can observe what is happening with our inner parts. Is that easy? No. It might be the hardest thing we will do in our lives. It may only be possible for 60 seconds at a time. But it will feel like the truth when you are in it. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when you are in this trauma response.
Is my fear justified based on what is happening right now in my adult life? If it is, please stay in this mode because your life is probably in danger. A large scary animal is chasing you. You are being attacked in some way. And you need all your adrenaline to get out of the situation. The mind doesn’t need to be a part of this equation. But there is a good chance you are not in this situation and the level of fear you have is not justified in this moment. That doesn’t mean you will want to invalidate that fear. It is there because you have been in life threatening (or perceived life threatening) situations before. The fear needs to be heard. But it needs to be expressed as your adult self holds space for it. There needs to be some detachment from it.
Am I actually trapped in this situation right now? Our inner parts will often respond to these moments from a state of complete disempowerment. They will not see a way out because their solutions can only repeat what they have experienced in the past. If they perceive they are trapped, they may begin to take drastic steps to escape. They may look for a rescuer. They may drop their authenticity. They may avoid the issue hoping it will go away. They may even break rules you don’t really want to break. These steps aren’t often what will bring the best results in our adult life. When we can approach these situations from a perspective of “Let me list my choices” instead of “I am completely without options”, things start to change.
Is this really a permanent state for my life now? When the low strikes, the inner parts will work hard to convince us that we will never leave this place. Our life is going to stay in this miserable state forever. And to the defenders, there is some intention behind it. They don’t want us to see a way out because it often means growth. There will be emotional expression, memory recovery and changes in how we see things. That is not okay with our defenders, so instead they convince us this is it. But in reality, no state lasts forever, not even the good ones. Knowing that an ebb will end has been one of the most important management tools in my own recovery. So let the parts scream about the permanency of this situation. Hold space for it. But know it is not the truth. Your recovery journey will take you places.
So the next time you experience a failure, an ebb, an emotional low, consider these three questions. Ask them from a grounded place. Allow a different perspective to seep in through a small crack in the trauma response. Hold it for 60 seconds if you can. Your life was a war zone. Your life was unchangeable. You were trapped. But it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can make new choices now.