Sunday, August 30, 2020

My Little Runaway

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder creates a disregulated stress response in many of us who survived Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). These responses often look overly dramatic to the outside observer. They might even seem "out of nowhere" when they're a sudden burst of fight or flight.

I've come to realize that these autonomic responses present in a myriad of sometimes subtle ways. Sure, the dramatic get the attention of onlookers, but the quiet attacks deserve a full understanding. It's the set up to the climax.

When lay people (like me) write about their experiences, we often try to piece together our mental state from self help self observation. We get some information on how what is conventionally called "fight or flight" and try and fit that into how we have managed our trauma states.

In real life practice, fight or flight has 2 overlooked components of freeze and appease. And many reactions of the 4 kinds of panic, may get overlooked without an awareness of how they manifest.

Lets start with a fight reaction to stress. An obvious first look shows that a panicked person can literally fight with another person or object. I once punched someone after a car accident. I apologized but I never saw the reaction coming.
Another manifest of fight can come in the form of argumentative actions or primal screaming that may seem out of context. Often vengeful thoughts can go unnoticed in their quietness.

Some will fight with inner thoughts and take actions like self abuse. Self harm may be a fight response.

Now, we'll examine the flight response. We run from that which scares us. We might also laugh or cower or cry.

Freeze can look like a lot of different actions such as going quiet, fainting, feigning sleep or hiding. Looking back at my past, I realized that when things were more than I could handle, I would sometimes faint. I heard people talking around me, but I just slipped away to get away from the pain.

When a traumatized person uses appease, they may bargain and distract with accommodation acts like food preparation for the person creating the stress. Appeals to authority like police or social services can be a stress response. Faithful people might pray or do other rituals in appease mode.

So sorting a lifetime of "panic attacks" may come down to sorting events that didn't seem to make sense at the time. Was it a stress response? Can we "see it coming" more in the future? If so, can we have a tool kit for how to respond?

Watch for tips and tools in future posts. Kind Comments encouraged.

Additional Resources: 

Fight or Flight response - Psychology Today 

Resilience to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) - Minnesota Department of Health

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - Wikipedia