Sunday, June 27, 2010

Dangerous Minds

We are pattern seeking creatures. It's how we make sense of our world. It's how we impose structure on randomness. It's how we feel safe.
And when those patterns are disrupted – he doesn't come home when he usually does; he doesn't answer his cell phone; he develops a new habit of going for a late-night jog – it can sound alarm bells. Or not. If we feel safe, we can generally roll with these changes.
But when these altered patterns reveal betrayal, our sense of safety is shattered. And it takes a very long time to create it again, if ever.
It's called "betrayal trauma". And its repercussions are highly underestimated by the betrayer and, often, the betrayed. Sadly, even by therapists.
The betrayer can't quite understand why we can't just "get over it." After all, they've promised us it won't happen again.
We can't quite understand why we can't just "get over it." After all, they've promised us it won't happen again.
And our support network can't quite understand why we can't just "get over it." After all, we're becoming boring...and obsessive.
Until, however, we recognize just how betrayal trauma affects us, it will continue to baffle us with its refusal to stop ambushing us.
But consider the fact that our betrayal came from the person we trusted most in the world. The person we felt safe with. The person we believed wouldn't lie to us. Or keep secrets. Or jeopardize our safety in any way.
And when that person betrays that trust, it affects us to our core.
Recent studies of trauma have revealed that parts of  our brains act as "smoke detectors", signalling threat. But these parts of our brains also store memories of these physical cues to danger -- sounds, smells, bodily responses. And these memories become essentially carved in our brains. And so when faced with triggers – sounds (a muffled phone conversation), smells (strange perfume or cigarette smoke on someone who doesn't smoke), bodily sensations (that "gut" feeling that something's wrong) – we react as if it's happening all over again. Which it may be. But it also may not. Our brain can't distinguish anymore and, since our own judgement, we believe, let us down before, we panic in the face of having discern a real threat from a perceived one.
It all sounds a wee bit convoluted and psycho-babblesque.
What it boils down to is this.
Your reaction – or over-reaction as some view it – is perfectly legitimate given what you've gone through.
Your sense of the world as ordered, relatively predictable and safe has been shattered. Replaced by a view of the world as precarious and inherently unsafe.
You'll find your equilibrium again...but you need to start by acknowledging how betrayal has affected your world-view.

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