Perception Isn’t Reality When It Comes to Trauma
By Julie Matheson
Our niece has a rescue-dog named Jack. Jack was neglected and abused before he came to live with her. Although she has had him about five years, he still cowers and does a timid, army-crawl toward her when she approaches him. Even though she is consistently kind to him he still isn’t completely sure that he can trust her.
Shock and trauma is like this. The effects from previous traumatic experiences remain in our cellular and emotional memory long after an incident happens. When a shocking event occurs, trapped emotional memory lies in waiting, unprocessed. It can then be re-triggered when a similar shocking event occurs. It’s true with both animals and humans.
As in the case of Jack, above, it can limit one’s perception of reality all the time, or in other cases, only when triggered. This is because shock and trauma cause our emotional and cellular memory to lock-in whatever perception, or misperception, we had about the event at the time that it occurred.
It makes sense, right? That in a moment of too much energy and information entering at once, and not enough time or skill to know what to do with it, negative thoughts about oneself get encoded. Then those negative thought patterns can become self-fulfilling prophecy, repeating again and again.
How can you behave appropriately if previous traumatic imprints skew your perception? Understandably, you can’t. When previous traumatic imprints get re-activated we can’t possibly see the situation clearly and this causes us to handle things less effectively.
Have you ever had someone recall an event drastically differently from you, even to the point of false information? Trauma from past events can severely distort reality beyond recognition. Layers of distortion make clear communication nearly impossible.
What is a traumatic event? Trauma can be anything that shocked your system. A misperception about yourself can happen in an instant and get locked in. Something as simple as being yelled at by a teacher can have lasting effects. Having a consistently criticizing parent whom you couldn’t please would be considered an on-going trauma. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, abandonment and loss-trauma can significantly affect how one perceives current events.
How to spot trauma in yourself? Trauma can cause a person to be overly defensive. It can cause you to trust someone who isn’t trustworthy and not trust someone who truly is trustworthy. Misperception embedded in a false belief system can distort how you see the world in general. It can cause you to not trust your own intuition or gut feelings. It can cause you to miss opportunities and make limiting choices.
Another common sign is what others say about your behavior. Friends and family may have tried to point out your misperception yet because your perception is rooted in real life experience and has likely been reinforced more than once, your body memory is more convincing than they are.
Further complicating things, being triggered can cause a person to become ungrounded and energetically leave their body, so to speak. When an emotional trauma gets triggered, if you aren’t aware, it can cause you to act in ways you normally wouldn’t act and because you “aren’t home” when this triggering reaction happens, you may not be able to remember exactly what you said and did. Emotional trauma can cause extreme blind spots in our thinking and therefore in our behavior.
What can you do about it?
1. Notice what triggers it? Reactions are not always logical. That’s why you have to pay close attention when a reaction happens. What are you thinking at the moment that it happens? Who is around you? What did they say? How were you feeling? When did you lose control? Can you accurately recall what you did and said?
2. Take heart and be committed to reality. It’s an extremely humbling experience to be taken over by a reaction rooted in a traumatic imprint. It’s maddening to feel like you don’t have any control when a reaction happens. Have compassion for yourself and be okay with being wrong. Listen to friends and family and believe them, especially if you feel dazed and confused after a triggering incident. Be grateful for those who are daring enough to tell you the truth.
3. Know that you can heal it. Each time a wound gets triggered is a ripe opportunity to glean valuable information. The more information you have, the more equipped you will be to untangle the trauma, find the limiting beliefs and change them. Compassion is easier once we understand what our limited beliefs are rooted in. Whatever the situation, I’m sure you will discover that it is completely understandable and entirely healable.
If you suspect you might have some limiting beliefs rooted in past trauma, don’t suffer, come see me for a session so we can set you free.
Julie Matheson is a holistic counselor and author. Her new book is now on Amazon in paperback, Kindle and Audible – Lotus Flower Living: A Journaling Practice for Deep Discovery and Lasting Peace: Untangle Your Mind and Heart Once and For All. You may listen to the Introduction at LotusFlowerLiving.com/Book.