Trauma has a particularly destructive effect on our minds and consciousness. After trauma we experience problems with time, memory, self, keeping perspective. In my view we have no choice but to continually try to re-balance our minds and selves. This is something we have to make a commitment to keep working on every day, throughout life.
A characteristic of someone who has been through trauma is that they are much more reactive to things around them. They become quick to see signs of threat, where none may exist, or be intended.
After trauma your mind is highly reactive
This can make ordinary living very difficult. Having relationships, delivering good quality work, holding down a job, all these things become very difficult because your post traumatised mind is continually reacting to things.
Is there such a thing as post trauma?
It is common to talk about post trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But perhaps this is misleading. Perhaps it is more accurate to say there is no post trauma. Someone who has been through trauma, particularly prolonged trauma has had their sense of time disrupted.
You can recover your capacity to live and relate to people in an ordinary way, but a part of you remains marked by the experience of trauma. Recovery after trauma is an on-going exercise, a bit like they say in 12-step work: ‘one day at a time’.
Trauma splits the mind.
- Part of the mind is caught up in the horror of the traumatic experience.
- Another part of the mind is hidden.
The part of the mind that is hidden (2) is the part of you that can live healthily. This part may react but is able to regain balance and to adapt. It is still there, it can recover, it just needs supporting.
The trouble is, that the part of your mind that was traumatised (1) remains quick to be activated and fire up over the slightest sign of threat.
If you have lived through trauma, if you are trying to recover from trauma, you need to find a way to rebalance things. You need your traumatised mind to step down and make room for the other more adaptable part of your mind.
You are trying to adapt, to give yourself a chance of living a better and less reactive life. I think calling it post trauma might be misleading, because the traumatised part of you continues to exist alongside the more adaptable part of you. For this part of you there is no post trauma. Each day, many times a day, you have to find a way to draw yourself back from your reactive self and recover your balance.
One problem is that your traumatised mind always wakes up before the more adaptable and conciliatory part of you. The adaptable part of you has to play catch up. But, when it does catch up it, it has a genuine talent for settling things down.
Someone who has been through prolonged trauma, physical abuse, an abusive relationship, will be more likely to see signs of abuse occurring in their ordinary day-to-day life. A comment from a partner will set off a highly charged reaction. The problem is that to the reactive part of you, you are right. The reactive part of you has had a justifiable reaction based upon something that you have detected in your relationship.
You have to find a way to step back from the reactive part of yourself
This is difficult and will need to be on-going work. This is because the ordinary and adaptable part of your mind is continually being surprised by the reactions that occur in the traumatised part of your mind. So, for example, some minor issue in your relationship will bother you, and before you know it (literally, because the more adaptable part of you will not yet know this is happening) you will be complaining and trying to correct things. You will quickly be in an argument with your partner and see them as unjust. Once your reactive trauma mind has been mobilised it quickly builds up momentum.
Only when some of the energy has been spent will your more adaptable and conciliatory mind have a chance to spot what has happened. Then your trauma mind will be full of guilt and remorse and want to make reparation.
This is an endless cycle of one mood, one part of your mind dominating another. Your task is to find a way to balance things out. Give the adaptable side of you a chance to get involved. This adaptable part of you is good at doing this. Your task, every day and all of the time is to find a way of calming the stormy seas of your trauma mind. We know when we have done this. Our experience is much more straightforward, and we are much easier to live with.