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What exactly is modern trauma?

Trauma is the way that our body responds to events in our lives, whether it’s “complex” trauma from childhood or specific things that happen. Both kinds live in our “threat detection” centres of the brain.

Any time something happens - in our emotions, in our environment - that reminds us of the trauma, the threat detection centre sends an alarm. This is our brain’s way of trying to keep us safe. While we can be grateful this exists - it’s helped us survive until now - the response can be longer and louder than we prefer.

There are two main trauma responses, according to the polyvagal theory:

The First Response

The “fight and flight” system is our sympathetic nervous system. It makes our bodies tense, alert, even agitated - to get us ready to fight or run away. Our brains spin out in overthinking, worrying, and worse-case-scenario thoughts. It can look like anger, irritability, or anxiety. The problem with modern trauma is that there’s rarely something specific we can fight off or get away from.

The Second Response

The second response happens when this first one is overwhelmed. When our body has spent too much time being overactive, it becomes exhausted and shuts down. It makes our body feel heavy, tired, and sluggish - it plays “possum” hoping that the danger just goes away. Our brains feel unmotivated, ruminating, and stuck-in-the-past. It can look like depression, apathy, or dissociation. The problem with modern trauma is when this response kicks in, it makes it hard to be in the world - with work, family, and economic realities.

Trauma responses become like a radio station that’s stuck.

When you have one station playing a dangerous story, that can make the world seem scary and unmanageable. The radio gets loud, with signals reporting to the nervous brain about everything happening (inside and outside the body).

Eventually, these signals are so powerful, it’s hard for the brain to do anything else - think, plan, dream, hope… If the trauma happened as a kid, that makes the brain turn off our instincts (because we couldn’t get away from the situation). In that case, it’s hard to trust ourselves, as well as others.

The trauma story becomes dominant.

These reflexive trauma responses start to run our programs. People end up diagnosed with anxiety, OCD, and ADHD from the overactive nervous system response. People end up diagnosed with depression, conversion syndrome (faking an illness), or end up with chronic pain or addictions related to the underactive nervous system response.

Waitlist for the Modern Trauma book

If this is you, or someone you care about, there are solutions.

There are so many ways to turn down the volume on this alarm system. We can develop ways to distract. We can turn the signals down or off.

We can “change the station” on the radio. Sadly, these tools are not taught at school and it’s hard to find a place to learn. We’re creating a community of discovery here.

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