We all know what’s meant by trauma, don’t we? A divorce, miscarriage, a bereavement, serious road accident or being caught up in a natural disaster can destroy a person’s sense of who they are and what it means to be in the world. Any physical damage may or may not heal over time, but psychologically, they’re never quite the same.
Well, that’s a limited view of trauma and its effects.
First of all, not everyone who has an extreme experience suffers severely and develops Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many are able to heal, and some go on to become fantastic healers or inspirational figures themselves, while others struggle for a while and then get on with the lives they’d always intended to lead.
Secondly, for many of us it’s a way of distancing ourselves from the idea that we might ourselves be traumatised. Nothing life-threatening has ever happened to us, so we don’t even consider PTSD as an issue in our lives. Wouldn’t it be melodramatic to suggest our reaction to marital betrayal and the ensuing divorce in any way resembles the experiences of a hurricane survivor?
Well, the events themselves may not be comparable, but whether a shocking or stressful life experience has a lasting, damaging psychological impact seems to depend more on how it’s processed.
A betrayal of our assumption that the room will never turn upside down can shake all our other assumptions, challenging our grasp of who we are and what life is about AND so can discovering a trusted partner is no longer invested in the marriage. The imminent threat of psychic annihilation is real enough to trigger the same processes in the brain that kick in when our life is in danger. The ‘fight-or-flight’ instinct takes over our brain as our Amygdala generates massive amounts of Cortisol and Adrenalin to prepare for this action it needs to take. The increase in Cortisol in the body causes neurons in the Hippocampus to shrivel up. As the Hippocampus is responsible for turning emotional sensory cues into visual retrievable memories that we can talk about – it’s ability to perform this function under stress is massively reduced. SO we get stuck in the emotional memories as we fail to contextualise what happened and the ability to think rationally is put on hold while we escape and become a slave to our Amygdala.
The block to the conscious memory can stay in place for some time to protect us from continued danger – for example in a combat situation. When we find a more secure space, either literally or in terms emotional and psychological support, we can adjust our world view, with the co-operation of the associated conscious memories, heal and move on. In other words, when the Cortisol decreases, our Hippocampus can come back online and help us to contextualise what happened. Until then, emotional memories will resurface unconsciously through dreams and flashbacks, until the conscious mind with the help of the Hippocampus is ready come to terms with what happened, and help make the adjustment to a new reality.
But our ability to process a shock like a divorce can be affected by behaviour patterns set by earlier traumas, or our life experience so far may have left us ill-equipped to deal with unexpected loss. PTSD is what happens when the conscious memory of the event is, or seems, too frightening to contemplate – our Amygdala (or brain’s alarm system) is so hyperactive that it doesn’t allow the Hippocampus to come back online. We can get caught in this fight-or-flight state, constantly re-experiencing out-of-context debilitating emotions disconnected from any conscious memories.
This is why we get stuck in divorce trauma. Reassessing your life in the light of an eye-opening event is no bad thing, but it sometimes feels too painful to take on board and understand what’s happened. On some level you probably desperately want to put the experience behind you and get on with your life, but you don’t seem to be able to think straight. This is why so many people avoid the processing of divorce trauma memories by engaging in Short Term Emotion Avoidance Tactics like shopping, working too much, hiding behind children or going out every night.
The Naked Divorce can help you get unstuck. The three-stage 21-day divorce support programme works by first stabilising you in an emotional ‘cocoon’, creating the safety you need to release those ‘feeling’ memories and begin to allow the conscious recollections in. Only then can you can work to contextualise your feelings, so that they’re associated in your memory with events you can consider and interpret, and you’re not constantly at their mercy. After pupating for 21 days, you’ll emerge, stronger, wiser and ready to move forward into your new life.
Call us, we are here to help and we know a hellava lot about what happens to the brain during trauma so we really know how to help you move on.
Till next time
Lots of hugs