Tanya Ruckstuhl LICSW
Trauma is like a recipe with three specific and recurring ingredients:
- fear of death or substantial pain/bodily injury: aka Terror
- helplessness to stop the event, aka Powerlessness
- hyper vigilance in the aftermath, aka chronic Anxiety
Each of these components builds upon one another.
The first ingredient, terror, is meant to alert the body and brain that something very dangerous is happening and that all of the nonessential functions (digestion, immune system, blood pressure regulation) need to STOP WORK so that every ounce of energy is available to fight or flee the threat.
The second ingredient, powerlessness, is a realistic survival strategy: if we submit to an event or a perpetrator we have no hope to flee or fight, we conserve our energy and increase our chances of survival.
Finally, hyper vigilance is like the condolence prize (although living with it is certainly no prize): If you must experience a terror you cannot stop or escape from, being hyper vigilant allows you to at least not be surprised by it. You are constantly scanning for danger and even though this costs you peace and quiet, it provides you with a level of anticipation that protects you from shock.
Hyper vigilance is common among child abuse survivors, soldiers returning from war, domestic violence survivors, anyone who has been repeatedly exposed to the first two ingredients.
Therapy for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is not short term, but it IS effective. I have seen chronically anxious abuse survivors transform their lives from isolation and fear to connection and purpose. If you are a trauma survivor you don’t have to stay stuck in hyper vigilance. You deserve recovery.