This is an often overlooked aspect of trauma healing in our society. We often do desperate things when shame gets activated as a result of experiencing a trauma–whether that trauma be sexual assault, or whether it be verbal, emotional, or physical abuse in childhood. Trauma lives in the body and it sets us on fire.
Coping with trauma is like being on fire and running towards what you think is a lake filled with water. Except it isn’t water; it’s kerosene. What we think will be immediate relief is actually going to engulf us even more.
Now imagine you are a bystander on the shore of this kerosene lake. You see the burning man running towards his certain doom. Would you think things like, “OMG how irresponsible of him running towards that kerosene lake. What an idiot. And to think he has children?!” No. You wouldn’t. Unless you are a sociopath, but that’s a post for a different day. You would understand immediately why this person was running towards what they think is relief, and you would (hopefully) be concerned and try to help.
This unfortunately is not how we view trauma in our society because the flames are invisible. We see a man running towards what we know is a kerosene lake and we judge him, making recovery all the more difficult for him as he beats himself up for the ways he tried to cope.
Trauma healing in our society is twofold. One, society has to start seeing the flames. We need to recognize trauma for what it is. We can’t gaslight (pun intended) a person into believing they aren’t REALLY on fire; that flame’s not so bad. As a society we need to be able to say “ah that flame looks pretty bad! Don’t go this way! That’s kerosene! Here let me help. I don’t judge you and totally understand why you thought that was a good direction to go.” THEN that enables trauma survivors to internalize those messages of acceptance. Which makes the second part of healing a lot easier.
Two: we have to forgive ourselves for what we tried to do when we were on fire. Oftentimes therapy is the first place where people experience this unconditional positive regard and understanding of the ways in which they tried to cope when they were on fire. It is one of my greatest joys to help people heal from shame and trauma. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to begin the arduous process of sharing your story when you are ready!