When you look at it this way, it’s easy to agree with what W.R. Cummings writes about how those who would tell us to “get over it and stop blaming your parents” are completely missing the point of childhood trauma:
When true trauma happens to a person, the brain is physically altered and the biological processes in the body are affected. This isn’t just a psychological theory. It’s been proven in study after study of brain imaging done on those who’ve experienced traumatic events.
The fear center of the brain (the “amygdala”) becomes overstimulated by the trauma, which causes the brain to think it should be afraid all of the time, even when not in danger. In turn, the prefrontal cortex of the brain becomes less able to function properly, which steals the ability to make logical decisions, control impulses, and organize thoughts. Over the course of time, the part of the brain that controls emotions becomes dysregulated, which means the person might feel emotions too strongly, not strongly enough, too often, not often enough, or at inappropriate times.
The brain can even develop scars after experiencing trauma. These scars exist along the neural pathways of the brain, which prevents messages from getting from one place to another. Neural pathways are sort of like the “roads” of the brain, while neurons are like the “cars” that transport messages. When the “road” becomes damaged–maybe sexual abuse in childhood caused the collapse of a massive bridge–then the road is no longer drivable by a neuron/car. Alternative routes, or detours, can be created over time with certain types of therapy, but the road itself can never actually be repaired.
As survivors, I think this is an area where we stumble often. There are ways that we can learn to deal with our natural reactions to these same stimuli, but we often beat ourselves up over the fact that we have these reactions in the first place. As if “healing” doesn’t happen until we reach a place where these pathways are all firing as if nothing had ever happened to us. But it’s an impossible standard. Everyone who has ever experienced anything, good or bad, develops these kinds of reactions, and has them naturally. It’s what keeps us alive and makes us human.
These are the same development skills that prevent us from reaching out to touch every new stove-top burner we see. We already know burners that are hot will hurt is to touch, those neural pathways and connections already exist, even if we’ve never seen this particular stove before. We know. Our brains see a stove, connect it to burning, and our hands don’t reach out to touch the burner. You don’t have to stop yourself from touching it. It just happens.
When your experience tells you that something is going to hurt you, your brain will figure out how to avoid and survive it. It will naturally kick in. Again, you can learn to work around that, or maybe even ignore it, but expecting your brain to magically stop reacting is asking yourself to not be human.
Maybe instead of expecting that from yourself, or anyone, give your brain some credit for going into survival mode, for keeping you alive, and be gentle with yourself.
Even if you are in a situation where acting out of fear is silly, it’s OK to feel the fear.