Coping through a Crisis in Survival Mode

During a crisis, our trauma responses are off the charts.


We all have our survival techniques and coping mechanism that came from our specific environments. 

While the methods might vary, there are similarities in the way we process the present moment after trauma. 

Let’s take a look at what many childhood abuse survivors are doing right now to survive this crisis at the expense of the peace we have managed to build up through our adult years.

We are numb. I get this is not new for most trauma survivors. We often spend time in this numb state and a crisis is not needed to put us there. But right now, we might be struggling to feel anything at all. To some, this might feel like progress. If you were used to feeling suicidal or angry all the time, numb could feel like a welcomed change. But believe it or not, feeling our emotions is a step up from numb. I know. I can hear the collective resistance to that statement. When we are numb, we are invalidating our inner parts that need to share how they feel. We are shutting them down, and in the long run, it’s unhealthy. But this may be our reality right now.

We are distracted. Distractions are harder to find in isolation, but not impossible. Our defences can be highly creative. With a vast virtual world and a virus to make the mind spin, we can find so many distractions from how we are feeling. People’s tendency to peruse social media has jumped through the roof. Same with spending more time in front of the TV watching movies. It is easier to get caught up in the hysteria about the virus, reading far too many articles than you know you should. The tendency to be distracted right now is very high.

We aren’t sleeping well. Many people are living a different schedule than they were before the crisis. But even if they aren’t, sleep patterns might be shifting and changing. When we sleep, we connect with our unconscious. Our unconscious mind expresses fears in the form of dreams and nightmares. If our triggers are blocked when we are awake, they will show up in our sleep. So we might find ourselves struggling to rest at night even if we are feeling fine during the day.

The mind’s job is to tell stories. Even in the least traumatised people, the mind is prone to stories that stretch the truth. We created stories to make it through a childhood with a reality that was too devastating to face. And those stories tend to stand the test of time. They become critical to survival. 

There is another way we use stories. We use them to explain our past emotions. We create stories for why we feel the way we feel. Our emotions are flashbacks, but we can’t face that truth. So we tell ourselves our feelings are about right now. In this current reality, this is very easy to do. We can relate all our traumatic emotions to this crisis. It has never been easier. 

And this keeps us in a loop of story-telling that is hard to break.

So please be gentle with yourself right now. Show compassion for your defences. We are experiencing them on a global level right now. Observe your defences. Ground yourself as often as you can. And allow yourself some space to be less productive, more exhausted and less mindful than average.

There isn’t anything wrong with you. You are reacting to a traumatic experience with a traumatic response you used to survive a traumatic childhood. 

Despite what you might be reading from others, you have a normal response. And becoming aware of that response is as much a part of our recovery journey as any other step.

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