“It’s so stupid, someone walks by and I jump.”
Trauma anxiety. Hypervigilience. People who have been traumatized find themselves more likely to be upset, to over-react and to be overly critical of themselves.
The problem is that trauma is defined by a chaotic moment. No one is prepared for it. The abruptness and unexpectedness and the accompanying fear create an anticipatory anxiousness.
In the Greek myth, the young girl, Persephone is picking flowers in the meadow with her friends. They are laughing and chatting as adolescents do and Persephone leans down to pick a flower. Suddenly the earth opens up, the god Hades rides out on a chariot grabs her and disappears again underground into the underworld where there is no sun, no light, no laughter, no ability to call out to her mother. One moment she is a young adolescent girl with her friends and the next grabbed and isolated, having to endure an experience she was not prepared for.
This abruptness creates a fear of what might happen and the uncertainty that it may happen again at any moment. In other words, it makes a person jumpy for a long time afterwards. The deeper the pain and the more disturbing the chaos (especially for a child the sexual exposure of unwanted sexual acts) creates this response of being forever aware of the possibility of terrifying change.
The existence of this anxiety is partly the surprise and partly the promise victims make to themselves to “never again will I be caught unaware”.
Those who have experienced trauma, need to be gentle with themselves. They need to accept that this is an attempt to cope. There is no shame or self-criticism in the attempt to be safe. It is as natural as the fever comes to rid us of the virus.
Learning to be gentle with ourselves, kind to ourselves and to understand forms the core of creating safety. When we understand why we react as we do, we become safe to ourselves.
… if this describes you…please read the next section on coping with trauma anxiety (Coming soon!).
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