Often, I have the experience of talking to individuals that have faced a great deal of adversity and/or trauma. Their life narratives can be shattered. They can have flashbacks, panic, intense fear, anxiety, depression and a number of related problems. Also, some individuals have been so dysregulated that they used experimental drugs, became addicted, acted out or participated in behaviors that they regretted in their desire to regulate their emotional state.
When individuals recall these feelings or behaviors or continue to need added support in order to maintain their emotions, they often feel guilt or shame. They believe they should be able to manage their behaviors and perspectives better than they do. Also, if they have had certain messages sent to them during some of their struggles, they can feel responsible and frustrated because they “haven’t tried hard enough!”
These situations are very complicated and resist the typical formulas that we think should work.
We can feel the pressures of all the “should-as” and are confused by our inability to figure out why we are struggling so hard to cope. Sometimes the decisions we make are out of desperation and fear rather than reasoning with cognitive clarity.
Trauma language includes the idea that the effects of trauma are not about what is wrong with you but what happened to you. As I have spoken with individuals who have experienced a trauma narrative or have had chronic toxic stress, some of their angst and depression are out of the blame and shame they feel because of their inability to overcome these issues.
When we encounter this kind of response to our own trauma it is really helpful to validate the feelings and perspectives based on the incidences we have experienced. When we connect the dysregulation and some of the behaviors that follow to our adversity, we can find ways to make sense of our experiences and actions. In essence, connecting our imprints and responses to our adversity gives us an explanation for why we behave the way we do. I often share with these individuals that what they are feeling or doing is predictable in light of their life experiences- either past or present.
Regret is real and forgiveness is an important relief for those regrettable behaviors. But the chronic blame and shame responses only leave us in a helpless and hopeless state. It can cause us to spiral into anguish and make us feel like a complete failure. However, if we carefully observe our behaviors, explain them reasonably, regulate our emotional state and embrace the truth of what has happened to us, we can move to a place of reason that may alleviate some of the anxiety and guilt that comes with the impact of trauma.
This small flip in our perspective can make a huge difference in how we feel emotionally. Rather than spending time in blame, we should strive to normalize our responses to adversity and use that discovered logic to take responsibility for what we can change. Then we can be more effective in navigating and managing our trauma responses with clarity and effectiveness. It can make a huge difference in how we function and enable us to find an enjoyable place of well-being each day!