One of the things which I find particularly unfair about experiencing trauma is the way we tend to continue to blame ourselves for what has happened to us. For abuse victims, people who have experienced childhood neglect or anyone who has experienced a trauma, you would think the opposite should apply – to feel concern and kindness and care towards yourself to facilitate the healing process!
Unfortunately, a common response to being traumatised is to internalise the fight-flight-freeze response. You see, when we experience an external threat, our ability to survive depends on our capacity to go into flight-flight-freeze. When we are traumatised, what happens is we internalise this experience, and we continue to have intense emotions about the trauma, like dread and shame, and the fight-flight-freeze response works from within us. We can’t help it, it gets locked in our bodies and we are wired this way.
This can lead to cycles of self-criticism, self-isolation and self-absorption. We find ourselves thinking badly about ourselves, ‘I am bad because I was hurt’, and, ‘Somehow this is my fault’. We don’t know how to regulate the painful memories and feelings, which can lead to a host of negative life experiences and behaviours.
The good news is, many different therapy models have the by-product of self-compassion, which is a healthy and alternative response to trauma.
In Cognitive Behavioural therapy we learn how to think in more realistic and life enhancing ways, in Acceptance Commitment Therapy, we learn how to create distance from our thoughts and bring an accepting, mindful presence to our painful experiences. Interpersonal therapies help us to cultivate self-compassion through learning about our interpersonal functioning and finding ways to navigate our relationships with more compassion for ourselves and others. Somatic based therapies, or ‘bottom-up’ approaches help us to integrate our painful traumatic memories, and we do this in a careful, kind and gentle fashion.
Feeling more self-compassion can have a calming effect on the autonomic nervous system, so we are less likely to be stuck in loops of fear and mistrust, and more likely to experience positive states such as ease, calm and acceptance.
It can take some work, and you may need to invest in yourself, but the effort will be worth it in the end. To find out more about how to cultivate self-compassion, reach out today.