5 Ways to Overcome the Drama of Trauma

I am fortunate that I don’t witness traumatic events or find myself in real crisis on a regular basis. While none of us are immune, they certainly happen less frequently in my life than they do for others in many professions or parts of our world.

And for that – I am thankful.

However, I had a very small experience this week that felt like a momentary mini-trauma.   And this mini-trauma allowed me to observe how my brain works during and after a time of crisis, and why traumatic events can have such an impact on our self-esteem, health, and well being if we allow them to.

As I am writing this, I realize that the last real trauma I recall experiencing in my life was almost exactly 15 years ago. On that day in June, my father suffocated in his hospital bed from fluid surrounding his heart and lungs that had developed as a result of lung cancer. I won’t go into details about the event – but watching someone suffocate is traumatic.

During a real or imagined trauma, our bodies go into fight or flight mode and hyper-focus on the event going on in front of us. Time seems to slow down. All of our attention is focused and several areas of our brain shut down to direct more energy into the parts of our brain needed to react in a split second. Adrenaline rushes to our arms and legs so we can act in an instant.

Our bodies are truly amazing! This is how people are able to do crazy things like lift cars off babies. We become almost super-human in crisis.

This week, the trauma I experienced was nothing like that of 15 years ago. My friend who is recovering from surgery momentarily blacked out in my arms. But in the moment, it felt the same.

When I realized that she had gone unconscious, my fight or flight responses took over. What I know was seconds felt like minutes and a bit of panic set in. I began acting more quickly than I even knew how to think – tapping her cheeks and calling her name, checking for breathing, and even sticking my finger in her mouth to open it. Thankfully she resumed consciousness right then, and I quickly shifted to helping her relax and breathe until she could be moved safely to a reclined position and her doctor’s office could be contacted.

You’d think that once the crisis is over and all is well, your body would resume to a state of peace. But that’s not the case. This is where the part of your brain that controls your more primitive brain functions starts “beating you up” for all intents and purposes.

In fact, this is where the real drama begins.

When my friend was comfortably resting and the scare was over, I found myself alone with my mind – and I was under attack.

What were you thinking? Why would you even consider X? What were you trying to accomplish by X? You know this is your fault. If you had just done, X, X, X better – this would never have happened. On – and on – and on.

In coaching, we call these voices Saboteurs. They are the inner critics whose voices developed at an early age to keep you safe. They remind you what pleased your mother and father when you were young and what kept you out of trouble. They have been strengthened by years of experiences, as well as teachers and bosses whose approval you sought. Their goal is to berate you so you don’t feel unsafe again.

The problem is, they always tell you that whatever happens is YOUR fault. They tell you what YOU could have done differently to put the situation in your control.

Worried young man being accused

Having learned to identify saboteur voices in my clients, I am much more able to hear and observe my own. And so I listened and observed from a distance.

My “judge” – the saboteur inner critic who often has the strongest voice – was leading the “discussion.” From letting me “have it” for not being more “prepared”, to telling me what I should have done instead, to making me feel guilty and responsible for the whole event – my judge was replaying the whole day and how it could have played out differently if I had just been more “in control”.

In his book and assessment tool, “Positive Intelligence”, Shirzad Chamine tells us that the “Judge is the master Saboteur and the original cause of much of our anxiety, distress, and suffering. It is also the cause of much of our relationship conflicts.”

I’m fortunate to be a coach and to have been coached quite a bit myself. I only allowed it to impact me for a short time before I was on to its game and could stop taking what it was saying to heart.

Fifteen years ago, I didn’t know about my Saboteurs. I didn’t understand how my brain could fool me into believing I was wrong, guilty, and in more control than I actually ever could be.

So when my dad’s trauma was over and he was left in a coma, my brain told me it was MY fault. I should have done X, I should have done Y, if I had only done Z. My mind would play the event over and over and try to figure out how I could have controlled the matter, prevented the outcome, and how I needed to get back at the people who were preventing me from being in control.

Talk about DRAMA – there was certainly no absence of it in my head.

Scared male mime artist running away isolated against white background

 

Here’s the thing – the Judge will come out full force in the midst of a crisis, but it is judging you all day long about the little things. From what you could have done better at work to what you should have done for your mom at home, your judge is almost always in charge of how you feel about yourself and others – if you aren’t paying attention.

So then, what can you do?

In coaching, we have a number of ways to help you recognize your Saboteurs and to dampen their power. While some of these tools are more powerful in a coach – client relationship, others are available to you immediately.

Here are some techniques:

 

  1. Identify them

It’s usually easier to find things when you know what you’re looking for.

We all have a Judge, so you can begin looking for that one now.   But the Judge has accomplice Saboteurs that influence your behavior, and how you approach situations.

One of mine is the “Stickler” – aka the Perfectionist. The Stickler tells me that getting things done perfectly will prevent other people from judging me or making me feel bad. And I’ve been falling for its agenda – and falling short of its expectations – for most of my life.

If you want to learn more about your primary Saboteurs, check out Shirzad’s assessment at www.positiveintelligence.com

 

  1. Tell them to take a HIKE

Once you know your Saboteurs are in control of your thoughts, you can kindly or assertively ask them to take a vacation to Yellowstone Park while you deal with what’s in front of you. It’s worth a try and sometimes it works!

 

  1. Refocus on your vision and your values

If you find your Judge beating you up from inside, you can always shift your focus to the things you value and what you are trying to accomplish.

If one of your values is compassion, you will quickly see that you aren’t honoring that value by berating yourself. Or if you value friends and family, you can stop the chatter by reconfirming your love of your friends and family so the judging of their imperfections loses its appeal. If you are trying to accomplish a vision, focusing on it often makes the Judge go away.

 

  1. Call on your Wise Self for Assistance

Underneath the inner voices telling you what you could have done more, better, or differently in the situation is the voice of your Wise Self. Your Wise Self knows the real truth about your actions, intentions, and worth, and it isn’t what you are hearing from your Saboteurs.

One way to connect with your Wise Self is to stop for a moment and close your eyes. Take a few deep breaths and allow your body and mind to relax.

When you relax, you dampen the power of the Saboteurs and strengthen the Wise Self. From this place, you can then ask yourself what’s true and what’s important to know now.

 

  1. Forgive yourself and others

By far, the most powerful thing you can do to stop the chatter about a traumatic event is to FORGIVE. While this may not be a standard coaching technique – it is certainly a powerful, proven method for disabling anger, guilt, shame, anxiety, etc.

Start by forgiving yourself. Forgive yourself for as many things as you can – both for what you did and for what you have believed about yourself and others.

“I forgive myself for believing that I could have prevented this incident,” or “I forgive myself for accusing the nurse for what happened,” are examples.

Then move to forgiving the other people for what they did and what they believed. “I forgive the nurse for not calling the doctor,” is an example.

Next, give others permission to forgive you. “I give the nurse permission to forgive me for yelling at her,” is one way to do this.

Finally, close your session with yourself by acknowledging what’s possible now that you have forgiven yourself and others. “Now that I have forgiven this, I am free to know that I am not responsible for my father’s death.”

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I hope that these techniques will be helpful for you – after a traumatic event or in everyday life.

This work can be challenging, and sometimes requires help from others.

In most cases, I am qualified to help you. In some cases, I am not, but can refer you to a number of other individuals who can. So don’t hesitate to contact me at info@unleashyourbrilliance.com with any questions about this topic or coaching in general.  I’d love to connect with you!

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