The more I think about it as I reflect daily on what my experience of being a self in a body is like in the world, the more I realize that what others might choose to attach individual labels to seem to operate as a single ONE THING.
I am referring to (1) Disorganized-Disoriented Insecure Attachment Disorder (DD), (2) Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) (again, an insecure attachment disorder, (3) dissociation which is an integral part of the physiological operation of both these two (which are probably the same Insecure Attachment Disorder in my thinking), (4) and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (complex or otherwise).
When an infant and young toddler, not to mention a child pursuing growth and development through all its further stages, is repeatedly attacked, abused, terrorized and traumatized — that little person’s ongoing reality of self-in-the-world is disrupted and turned into chaos with each attack.
Such a little person does not get a chance to develop what I am thinking about today as being a smoothly functioning transmission system that would allow the child to be able to transition between different states of being — especially between one traumatic state to and through the next one — OR between a state of child-reality interest and peaceful calm while pursuing their life into and through a state of terrorism and trauma.
I had another rather innocuous experience yesterday while in conversation with a good friend in which I was asked a question ‘out-of-the-blue’ that required of ME some amount of time passing so that I could look within myself to sort through the vast amount of information that appeared within me in response to this question. The question surprised me, thus I was not prepared to answer instantaneously – so I could not.
This other person, not being a person that was overwhelmed with early traumas was a person that appeared TO ME to be exceedingly impatient wanting a response from me ASAP — which meant in ‘ordinary person time’. This person did not – and probably could not – possibly understand that in my body I have to MANUALLY shift my gears! I have to work my way through what appears to me sometimes – and what would appear to most other people — as WAY too much information!
Today, thinking about this interchange, I realize that how ordinary people process sudden shifts in being must be so smooth, so practical-for-ordinary-existence, so hidden and automatic — that they simply never have to pay attention to HOW they respond – to anything (much).
I picture a state of acute trauma that might happen to someone on a (hopefully) rare occasion such as having to react to a vehicle at full speed on the highway swerving into one’s lane — HOW does someone react – in response to all possible outcomes of actions that COULD be taken?
This, to me, is a far more similar example of what ongoing life is often like to severe early trauma survivors. The reaction of the ‘rest of the world’ to us does NOT help us. NOW is what ‘they’ want. Super NOW!!
We don’t have a super now in those situations when some kind of inner deliberation of information being presented by our environment is needed. We operate in ‘acute trauma time’ which might oddly seem to be very SLOW time compared to other people’s very RAPID time.
Yes, most frequently when a traumatic threat actually appears and is very real RAPID reaction is what is going to save the day rather than long ‘higher cortex’ higher thinking which is very slow compared to the automatic reaction of the stress response system.
But our body-brain never got to develop a ‘transmission’ appropriately to be able to distinguish between our physiological reactions. We are always in a mode of operation that is accumulating A WHOLE LOT OF INFORMATION – more than ordinary people can imagine — so that we can ALWAYS be prepared to survive in worst possible situations — whether they really exist in the present moment or not.
There was absolutely nothing in my friend’s question yesterday that was threatening or traumatic. But the way my body-brain was built in the midst of 18 years of terror and trauma — does not know the difference because it did not get to build within me an ordinary response-to-life.
The worst insecure attachment disorders (DD and RAD) (which again are probably the same thing) were built into us because we were developing within extremely harmful, toxic, traumatic and malevolent environments. We cannot go back to the beginning of our life and build a different body-brain. We have to make it through ALL situations we encounter for the rest of our lives with this trauma-altered body we were forced to develop.
If the world around us, meaning ordinary people, cared enough to learn what life is like for us, and then gave us the time we need during those times we are presented with our too-much-information to sort it all out consciously so that we could DECIDE and CHOOSE the way were were going to respond-react — our own experience of life would be a whole lot easier – and smoother.
But ordinary people run the world here, for the most part. This is a very good thing, actually. This means that the REST of the world around us was NOT malevolent – as ours was and appears to be on some level for us the rest of our lives.
So, to me, it is vital that when at all possible especially in relationship with our intimate friends and family members, that we be able to identify when these overwhelming moments happen to us verbally or in some other way using signals that communicate I NEED TIME to process what you have said to me, what has happened here, what is being asked of me, sort through the information I just received in this situation, etc. so that I can find my OWN way through this as smoothly as possible.
What overwhelms our ‘systems’ and when will never truly make sense to non-survivors. Yet their empathy and compassion, care and patience can help US — and therefore our relationships with others — much easier. But this will require a different standard of time-passing that will allow us to find our way out of our automatic and often extremely confusing traumatic stress reactions into actions that come from our inner place of peaceful calm.
We are worth this!
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4 thoughts on “+SEVERE TRAUMA SURVIVORS: WE LIVE IN A DIFFERENT WORLD THAN ORDINARY PEOPLE DO”
This resonates with me. There are so many times that seemingly innocuous situations throw me for a loop because I am overwhelmed with what feels like too much information, while everyone else looks at me like ‘What’s HER problem?’. For example, if a group of friends from work are all going to lunch I will take my own car because I can’t deal with all the logistics of who is riding with who. It’s so stressful for me and I’ve never understood why!
It strikes me (for some reason) that we are best off any time we can ‘cut corners’ like you describe. The more we understand how our body (with out self in it!) operates differently from ‘ordinary’ in this world, the more preemptive we can be!
Like me, today, there’s a petting zoo at our local Farmers’ Market – includes some miniature goats such as the ones I hope to get next fall – looking ahead (!!) I just can’t see myself smoothly sailing through the whole (to me) chaos of the market – so today I will just not go.
These reactions are numbered/named among the side effects of PTSD – we end up controlling our internal states by controlling what we can of our exposure to the external environment. The problem, of course, can so easily be (as it has with me now at 60) mean that our lives get smaller and smaller.
There are times we can exercise our willingness to stretch ourselves even when we are uncomfortable or anticipate being so – but with our ‘cutting corners’ even then we can try to avoid and eliminate our exposure to what we have come to understand will ‘disorganize-disorient’ us – situations that give us risks that ‘ordinary’ people WILL NEVER be able to comprehend.
Again, watching the Temple Grandin movie gave me an ability to resonate with this kind of clash between universes – and how we can still accomplish great things in our lives using the fantastic abilities that we have. Only we can our self recognize what these extraordinary abilities are – as we find ways to use them according to what is comfortably possible!!!!
For me – in large part post chemotherapy which erased so many of the competency abilities I LEARNED growing up – nearly all stimulation is too much for me now. I am so grateful I did have those learned ways to ‘act as if I was normal/ordinary’ especially during the years I raised my children. But they are gone now – and the fact that this could happen (the erasure) was, of course, NEVER explained to me as the terrific risk that it is.
I look inside myself and now I can see that how I am NOW is actually how I was as a child in the midst of that insane chaotic terror, trauma and abuse. I simply moved forward, always forward – no matter how I had to adjust who I was to the outside world. But those adjustments were temporary! I did not know that until the stress of the breast cancer 5 years ago and the consequences of the chemo affecting memory.
We have to be CAREFUL of ourselves. As tough as we are as survivors, there are some parts of us that are extremely fragile and vulnerable!!! We have to learn together what our fragilities are just as we learn our strengths.
Thank you so much for your writing here, sharing this little glimpse into a circumstance that calls all I am mentioning into play! We are so brave!! Yet we have (realistically) been wounded beyond belief. We will always need to be as aware as we can of what can topple our precarious sense of well-being and inner peaceful calm!!!! All the best to you! Linda – alchemynow
Thanks for sharing. I’m going through the process now of trying to figure out how I can live a decent life given the arrangement of my nervous system. I just feel retarded at times because I can’t respond because I know that what I want to say is inappropriate to the situation or I’m just in too much of a general state of confusion to collect my thoughts at all.
I know exactly!! Did you happen to watch the movie, ‘Temple Grandin’? Excellent – and comforting in ways to understand I have as different a body as she does – and mine is similar to hers in important ways –
Good to hear from you!!