The brain is an expert keeping us safe: When there is a danger our threat system kicks in to fight the danger, run away, freeze or collapse to stay alive. This is intended for a real life or death situation. However, sometimes we confuse what is real and what is just our imagination. #HealingTrauma
To illustrate this point: Would you fight, run away or freeze if…. You are inside your house and it is on fire? I had a heart attack? I said you are a loser? Most people say they would run from the fire, fight to help me for the heart attack, and fight me if I said they are a loser.
This is the perfect time to point out that only the first two examples (fire, heart attack) are a real physical life or death threat. That is, you will not die if I call a loser. Yet a lot of us respond as if we will. This means we are using the wrong system a lot of the time.
This means we might find ourselves in a constant state of threat. It is a recipe for trauma. Remember the threat system is for a real life or death threat (i.e. poverty, danger). Although our minds can easily confuse what is a real danger and what is just our imagination. So questions we can ask ourselves when unsure:
Is this situation a life or death threat? Is this situation real or just my imagination? If it is a real threat then fight, run or freeze. The most important thing to do is to become safe. If it is not, then drop the fight and turn up your Social Engagement System, or what I like to call your Peace System.
Our Social Engagement System, or Peace System, lets us experience safety via peace, joy, love, compassion, blissfulfulness and ecstasy. It allows us celebrate the miracle and beauty of being alive. Worldwide research shows three things make it grow: Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness.
Each of these topics – Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness – is an area of scientific research on their own. You could actually teach a subject on each one. They are also academic, or big words, that can be misunderstood. So let’s translate and combine them into one sentence for simplicity:
Empathy: to feel
Mindfulness: right here, right now
Peace system: “Thankful, to feel, right here, right now.”
Gratitude: If you could have any three things in the entire world what would you want them to be? When you’re done what’s three things you already have that you are thankful for? Now be completely honest. Which one do humans focus on more? What we want or what we have?
Most of us focus on what we want much more than what we have. Wanting what we do not have leads to suffering obviously because we do not have whatever it is we want. Research show that being thankful for what is enhances our wellbeing and sense of connection to life.
Try reminding yourself daily: I am alive, I can see, hear, smell, taste, touch, think, feel, remember, imagine, create, love or hate. My brain operates effortlessly, I can comprehend this thread, using cognition and language, I can extract its meaning. This is phenomenal. Being thankful for what is.
So you woke up today. The sun is shining. The sky is endless. You have clarity. A million things are working for you, not against you. So why do we focus on what is wrong? Our brains are experts at detecting threat. Plus if we focus on what we want rather than what is, no wonder we suffer. So try remember: Is this life or death? Is this real or my imagination? Then. Be. Thankful.
Empathy: If I tell you a joke and you laughed the laughter actually means “you get it”. Similarly, if I feel what you are feeling, it means I get you. Just as importantly, when you feel what you are feeling, it means you get yourself. Empathy fuels connection. Trauma is disconnection. Love is the absence of judgment.
Mindfulness: A Great Master said: “If you are depressed, you are in the past. If you are anxious, you are in the future. If you are at peace, you are in the present.” Depression is about the past. Anxiety is about the future. The moment where peace exists is in the present.
Yet we are barely in the present moment. Having a mind allows us to time travel with our thoughts and remember the past or imagine the future. This allows us to reminisce and make our dreams come true. However, we can also relive the worst misfortunes or anticipate the worst case scenarios. Neither are reality in this moment.
Clarity is the ultimate state of the mind. Why? Clarity means to see things clearly. You simply see reality just the way it is. The byproduct of clarity is a sense of peacefulness. Joy is peace dancing. Clarity exists in this moment and fosters peace, joy, love, compassion, blissfulness and ecstasy.
Too much focus on past misfortunes brings depression. Similarly, too much focus on what might go wrong brings anxiety. Either direction, focusing on what we want than what is brings suffering. So regularly ask yourself: Where am I? Am I in the present moment with clarity? Or am I lost in my imagination?
The present moment is “almost” always safe. However, we do not experience it as such when we live in a constant state of threat always on the look out for danger. Sometimes there is a real danger. So regularly check: Is this moment is safe, dangerous or was that just my imagination?
If the present moment is unsafe, we can fight, freeze or move away. Here the most important thing to do is to become safe. If it is safe, as “almost” always, then it is the Peace System’s time to shine: by celebrating the miracle and beauty of being alive. How? Being: “Thankful, to feel, right here, right now.”
Now you know the power of Trauma Informed Care. Let’s turn this framework into a mindset for personal, social and political change. If you are unable to, you might need help first, to get safe or become ‘unstuck’ from trauma. Reach out for trauma informed care. #YouBelong
Dr Louise Hansen
PhD in Psychology
Human Rights Activist
#HealingTrauma #Justice4Australia #WeAllBelong
Trauma Informed World was inspired by Kopika and Tharnicaa; two faces that remind us everyday of Australia’s cruel refugee system. One of many systems in Australia that remind us of the negative operation of power. #HomeToBilo
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