stop being the victim!
The first step needed to stop being the victim and start taking back control of your life after trauma.
“You can’t sit under the chicken coop and ask God to stop the chickens from pooing on your head!” – Dr Solomon
My psychiatrist, Dr Solomon, used these strong words when I was hospitalised after my nervous breakdown at the age of 26.
At first, his comment offended me, especially since I felt so vulnerable.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realised he was right. Besides, in the week leading up to my hospitalisation, my husband told me the same thing! Although, his approach was a lot gentler:
“Why do you feel that you always have to be the victim?”
Being the Victim
Good question! Why did I always feel like the victim? And what did I have to do to stop being the victim?
Have you ever seen the flea experiment where fleas were kept inside a sealed glass jar for three days? When the lid was finally removed, none of the fleas tried to escape.
From my personal and professional experience, I think trauma has a similar effect, especially if we experience trauma at a young age!
Trauma Response Cycle
Dr Peter Levine refers to this as the trauma response cycle.
1. First, we are alerted when we witness or experience something that either puts ourselves or others in danger.
2. Next, our nervous system triggers our fight-or-flight response.
3. If our efforts to fight or flee are unsuccessful, we experience fear and helplessness.
4. If this state of fear and helplessness continues, we go into a freeze response where we become immobilised.
We become frozen in fear
We often see this freeze response in young children. Unfortunately, they don’t always have the cognitive or physical means to fight or escape a threatening situation.
In his book, The Biology of Belief, biologist Bruce Lipton explains that all living organisms are either in a state of growth or protection. They can’t be in both states at the same time.
This is very common in the trauma response. When we are in a continuous state of protection, we deplete our energy reserves, and our system shuts down.
I didn’t know it then, but I was stuck in a perpetual cycle of fight, flight and shut down because of unresolved childhood trauma and witnessing danger around me daily.
I felt like a helpless child, frozen in fear and unable to fight back or flee. Yes, I was stuck in victimhood!
The helpless child in me was waiting on God or some higher power to rescue me.
It never crossed my mind that I had it in me to save myself.
To break my trauma response cycle, I had to break free from my imaginary glass jar and stop being the victim. Or, as Bruce Lipton explained, to thrive, we have to remove the stressors in our life and seek a joyful, loving and fulfilling life.
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple!
Trauma has the ability to turn your life upside down and shake you like a rag doll. All the things that are not stable fall away.
Even though this is very traumatic, there are some benefits to being shaken!
Everything in my life that no longer served me fell away. All those aspects that caused me to be emotionally unstable, including my pride, unforgiveness toward others, and toxic situations.
Once that was out of the way, I had to learn how to break the link between:
1) my fears, and
2) my thoughts of being a helpless victim.
With the help of those trusting individuals who remained by my side and helped me feel safe, I began to rebuild the pieces of a brand-new me.
Feeling in Control
Even though the world around me was still shaky, I realised I could stop being the victim by identifying what was in my circle of control:
The things I could do to help me feel safe.
I began to spend a lot more time in nature. Nature helped me to ground by becoming aware of my physical sensations and responses in the present moment. For example, focusing on a particular smell or sound or the breeze touching my skin.
Grounding in nature was in my circle of control. It helped me to take in the beauty of life. To feel. To breathe. To enjoy.
I had to start small to experience success. At first, these included simple tasks like creating art, cleaning a cupboard or walking alone in the neighbourhood.
Completing and mastering these small jobs helped me to discharge all the pent-up energy of feeling stuck and helpless. It also became addictive: the more successful I felt completing these small tasks, the more I began challenging myself with bigger projects.
And, the more success I experienced, the more in control of life I felt.
Taking Back Control
With plenty of time to recover, think, and reflect, it didn’t take long to realise that I had to change my career as a hairdresser and do something that mattered to me. As my psychiatrist so sternly reminded me: only I could remove myself from a situation that no longer served me.
I did not need to ask for help or permission. This was in my circle of control.
After a whole day of personality and aptitude testing at a nearby university, I discovered that I am a deeply spiritual person who feels called to teach, heal, and create. This realisation empowered me. Knowing that I had a choice no longer made me feel so stuck. I was in control of my life, and it felt great.
I stopped being the victim when I felt safe and more in control of my life. As an adult, it was in my power of control to remove myself from situations where the “chickens could no longer poo on my head.”
Please know that you do not have to struggle through the aftereffects of trauma on your own. It helps to have someone to talk to. Book a therapy session with me today if you would like extra guidance on coping with trauma.
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