When you are physically or emotionally abused your system will go into a survival response. When what’s at stake is to be accepted, liked, and belong, or to have that emotional need that you have been missing since early childhood met, it’s very UNlikely that the survival response will be fight or flight.
It’s way more likely that your body’s response will be to hide and shrink, fawn and go along with what’s happening, or go into freeze and numbness.
What you need to understand is that trauma doesn’t only happen during the event itself, it’s also created by the lack of processing after the event, and in the assumptions we make about how we acted during the event.
In our fifth and last session, Kate opens the door to an event that happened when she was a teenager, which created a lot of the social vigilance and unsafety she’s experiencing later in life. On top of the actual event, beliefs and shame were created. Unconsciously, Kate took on the responsibility for what happened, and a part of her tries to make sure she’s never seen in a similar way again.
We give the parts of her a chance to process the emotions that never were felt and give them a more truthful perspective of who was responsible.
Listen to episode 101, Processing abuse and shaming - Live Coaching #5 with Kate:
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The survival response during an abuse
When you are physically or emotionally abused your system will go into a survival response.
When what’s at stake is your spot in the tribe – to be accepted, liked, and belong…
…or to have that emotional need met that you have been missing since early childhood…
…it’s very UNlikely that the survival response will be fight or flight.
It’s way more likely that the involuntary survival response will be:
👉 hide and shrink – trying to become invisible and have it go away
👉 fawn and go along with what’s happening while disassociating from your body
👉 go into freeze and numbness while you’re being done onto
What you need to understand is that trauma doesn’t only happen during the event itself, it’s also created by the lack of processing after the event.
AND, in the assumptions we make about how we acted during the event. Meaning, what we “should” have done instead of the list above of what often happens. 👆
Doesn’t make sense quite yet? Keep reading and I’ll walk you through it.
The trauma that gets created AFTER the abuse
A very common response after the event is to deny that anything bad ever happened.
“It wasn’t a big deal”
It took me years to understand why we do this.
Why I did this after the sexual abuse I experienced at 14.
But when I put together how we’ve been taught not to feel our emotions, with the storm of uncomfortableness, pain, shame, and anger I felt when opening the door to my own experience, it started to make sense.
A big part of why we deny the abuse is:
Admitting it was a bad experience means feeling an overwhelming amount of painful emotions.
Since your system doesn’t know how to process painful emotions and believes they are dangerous, mean something is wrong with you and bring the acute feeling that you’ll drown in them…
… it seems better to not have them.
So the solution is to deny that anything painful happened.
Or simply shut down around any other emotions than numbness and seemingly okayness.
Pretty clever huh?
But it also keeps the door shut around other layers of the experience.
The first time a therapist told me I’d been raped, a hot burning rage rose from within and my impulse was to punch him in the face. The therapist. Who simply told it like it was.
That’s how strong that denial mechanism was.
“Don’t you dare take my denial away from me. It’s all I got to hold myself together.”
When abuse starts to re-surface to be processed
So it’s not strange if after you’ve grown your capacity to feel emotions, old abuse events start to surface to be processed.
I’ve spent weeks feeling a terror so strong that I wanted to die, after being in my most expansive and loving states ever.
All linking back to the day after the abuse when I sat alone for hours in a bathtub, bathwater getting colder, unable to get up, with the feeling of being utterly alone in the world.
When I feel this terror (the best word I have to describe the experience that takes over my body, emotions, thoughts, and nervous system) my body starts to tremble, just like I’m back in that cold bathwater, unable to get up.
When a past abuse shows up to be felt and processed, with all its nervous system response, your mind will say:
“What is THIS doing here?? I thought this was healed and forgotten a long time ago… What is wrong with me, I thought I was getting better.”
And that’s why it’s SO IMPORTANT that we talk about this.
That a past trauma surfacing actually means that you’re ready to process and bring love into the darkness of that event.
To love it open.
Because the healing you’ve done probably didn’t go into the depths of feeling the emotions underneath the protection mechanisms.
It didn’t reach down to the part that felt a storm of things that got shut down because it wasn’t safe or feasible to feel at that moment.
And it’s not until you feel deeply safe that what got buried underneath can be accessed.
What we needed to process abuse
Chances are also that you didn’t get a non-distorted and helpful way to understand and process the event after it happened.
Again, this is often where the deeper trauma gets created.
In the lack of support.
In the lack of being held while you fall apart.
In the lack of someone picking you up from that cold bathwater.
In the lack of someone letting you know with their whole body that it wasn’t your fault and that what was done was NOT OKAY. (Even if we don’t believe it fully then, someone is standing for that compass of right and wrong.)
Again and again, I see unconscious beliefs like “I’m completely alone”, “I don’t matter”, “My only worth is in being used by someone else” that were created in the hours or days after the event.
The trauma deepens when we feel ashamed that we didn’t fight back, say NO, or walk away – and don’t have another human there with a clear, compassionate reflection of why we reacted the way we did, and where responsibility lies.
So if you ever feel like there’s something wrong with you because a past trauma is surfacing…
I want you to hear this.
I’m speaking these words because I wish that someone would have spoken them to me.
I needed them that painful year when the storm started and the partner that I for the first time felt safe enough to finally process it with and hadn’t run away from, left me.
I needed it all the times when doubt was eating me alive, it felt like I was going crazy and that there MUST be something wrong with me for not feeling better.
So I say it to those past versions of myself, and I say it to you and anyone who needs to hear it now:
This is beautiful.
Your pain is beautiful.
It’s safe to go there.
It will feel like you’re being ripped to pieces – let it happen.
What is being ripped to pieces are the lies, the armor, and everything you had to become because of what happened.
You’re going to be better than okay, and you’re not alone.
Because what I came to realize was that I wasn’t alone in that bathtub.
There are many of us experiencing that terror and we’re rising in the power of feeling, stronger in our softness than ever before, and bringing love through the cracks of pain.