The brain is an expert keeping us safe: When there is a danger our threat system kicks in and we fight, run, 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 our imagination. #HealingTrauma
To illustrate this: Would you fight, run, freeze or collapse… If you were inside your house and it was on fire? If I was with you and I had a heart attack and fell down on the floor? If I said you were a loser? Most people say they would run from the fire, fight for my life, and fight back if I called them a loser.
This is the perfect time to point out that only the first two examples (fire, heart attack) are a real life or death situation. That is, you will not die if someone calls you a loser. Yet many of us respond as if we will die. 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 which is a recipe for trauma. Remember the threat system is for a real life or death situation (i.e. poverty, danger). Although we can easily confuse what is a real danger and what is our imagination. So questions we can ask ourselves when unsure:
Is there danger right in front of me in this immediate moment or am I safe? Is this experience reality or am I lost in imagination? If there is danger, then fight, run, freeze or collapse to stay alive: safety is primary. If there is no immediate danger, then it is time to turn up the Social Engagement System, or what I like to call our Peace System.
Our Peace System, lets us experience “safety” via intimacy and play (Thread: #2 What is Intimacy and Play?) and is experienced as peace, joy, love, compassion, blissfulfulness and ecstasy. Our Peace System allows us to celebrate the truth and beauty of being alive. Worldwide research shows three things make it grow: Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness.
Each of these phenomena – Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness – are an area of scientific research on their own. You could actually teach a subject on each one. They are also academic words and so sadly they are sometimes explained in an unnecessarily overcomplicated way. So let’s break them down 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 anything in the entire world right now what would you want? When you are done what is something that you already have that you are thankful for? Now be completely honest: What do humans focus on more? What they want or what they have?
Most of us focus much more on what we want than what we have. Obviously focusing more on what we want than what we have will make us suffer because we do not have whatever it is that we want. Research shows that being thankful for what is enhances our sense of connection to life and wellbeing.
So try remind yourself daily: I woke up today. I am alive. My heart is beating. I can breath. I can see, hear, smell, taste, touch, think, feel, remember, imagine, create and love. My brain is operating effortlessly. I can read and comprehend this, using language and cognition, I can extract its meaning. This is phenomenal. I even have choices. I do not have to agree with this. I can leave this page right now and think to myself: “This woman’s crazy!” This is just some of the many phenomena occurring within us…
When we look at what is happening outside of us: The sun is shining. The sky is endless. Existence has turned up everyday. Actually it never went away. This is clarity: A million things are working for us, not against us. So why don’t we feel that? Our brain is an expert at detecting threat.
The brain is constantly on the lookout for danger (i.e. obviously to keep us alive). So it will naturally gravitate to any threat. When we combine this with focusing on what we want than what is, it is no wonder society is miserable. So try remember: Is this immediate moment dangerous or safe? Is this moment reality or am I lost in my imagination? Then. Be. Thankful.
Empathy: If I tell you a joke and you laughed at my joke, the laughter means “you get it”. Similarly, if I feel what you are feeling, it means I get you. Just as important, when you feel what you are feeling, it means you get yourself. Why is this vital? 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 only moment where reality and therefore 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 beautiful experiences and make our dreams come true. However, a lot of us end up instead reliving our worst misfortunes and projecting those memories into the future using our imagination to predict the worst case scenarios. Neither are reality in the present moment.
Clarity is the ultimate state of the mind. Why? Clarity means to see things clearly. Yes. Life is crazy, beautiful and terrifying. Clarity knows this. We acknowledge life’s beauty and terror; not just terror without beauty. The byproduct of such clarity is a sense of peacefulness. Joy is peace dancing (i.e. a higher intensity of arousal). Clarity exists in the present 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 makes us suffer. So regularly check: Where am I? Am I in the present moment with clarity? Or am I lost in my memory and/or imagination?
The present moment is “almost” always safe. However, we cannot 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, reality or was that just my memory and/or imagination once again and again and again?
If the present moment is unsafe, fight, run, freeze freeze or collapse to stay alive: safety is primary. However, if it is safe – as “almost” always – then it is the Peace System’s time to shine: by celebrating the truth and beauty of being alive. How? Being: “Thankful, to feel, right here, right now.”
Source: ‘Threat System vs Peace System’ was inspired by Stephen Porges’ Polyvagal Theory. https://www.stephenporges.com
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 #YouBelong
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
You can listen my talk with Dr Cathy Kezelman AM, the President of Blue Knot Foundation on my own healing journey, training and study and how it has informed my work and advocacy for a trauma informed world here:
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