In today’s world, especially in Westernized society, much significance is place upon an individual’s ability to manage stress, trauma and other demands on their own. After a particularly stressful incident, we may notice having some coworkers, family, friends checking in for a few days, and after a certain amount of time receiving either spoken or unspoken messages of “well, it’s time to get over it” “move on!” or “count your blessings- not everyone is as lucky as you!” While most of these phrases are meant to be well intentioned, these often do more harm than good. What these messages serve to do is amplify the feelings of confusion, isolation and shame around our natural normal process of reacting to a distressing situation.
We are taught from a young age that being strong means not just rejecting the notion of relying on anyone else, but seeking out support or advice from your family or friends means you are “weak” or incapable of handling your own problems. The flaw with this is how the emphasis on what it means to be brave and emotionally strong goes against our very biology, our very evolution of what has kept us alive and safe for all of these years.
As taken from Peter Levine’s book, Waking The Tiger when discussing community and trauma, he discusses how before the 1994 earthquake hit in California, it was noted that a group of carpe tightly grouped together hours before the earthquake hit and remained together until hours after. Additionally, when looking and assessing the middleclass families that had been hit, their symptoms of PTSD rated more significant than the families that had immigrated from impoverished countries. So, what was the biggest difference? Wouldn’t the middleclass families have more resources? Well, the immigrated families studied tended to band together after the earthquake, sharing spaces, meals and processing the effects of the disaster as a community. As a final example- the shamans who have been around since the Stone Age believe after a trauma has occurred, the soul leaves the body; as a part of soul retrieval ceremonies, the whole community comes together in an effort to create welcoming space to coax the soul to return. Only recently has neuroscience been able to prove through studies what nature has been showing us since the dawn of time- we need one another.
We as people are wired in a very primitive way to connect- so when a trauma or large stress has occurred, dealing with these events becomes significantly more difficult to do under isolation. The trauma, depression, anxiety will make us want to isolate due to nervous system overstimulation/emotional exhaustion, numbing, and the fear and shame of rejection. It is no small feat telling your family & friends that you may no longer feel or act like you. It is not easy to make yourself vulnerable, asking for support. Despite these difficulties even sitting on a couch with a trusted friend can help us to feel safer, having the security of not just another person, but the presence of a regulated nervous system to assist us in regulating ourselves. It is important to remember are the feelings of fear of rejection, shame, wanting to isolate and confusion are normal responses when the body is having a trauma reaction. What is most significant to remember is the human body has a remarkable ability to heal itself, however this starts with an innate understanding of what you need and giving yourself permission to receive loving, healthy support.
Alexis has been a part time contributor to the online website Patientworthy which is dedicated to education and awareness of rare and serious diseases. Links to articles written by Alexis: