Freaking Out When Others are Calm

Ever wonder why one person stays calm in a particular circumstance while another completely freaks out?

Our nervous systems are unique, just like each human is unique. Some nervous systems are more regulated than others, some are highly sensitive, and others are affected by repeated incidents of stress or even a single traumatic event. The less regulated your nervous system, the more difficult it may be for you to ‘handle’ certain situations. If you experienced trauma and have not gotten help with re-regulating your nervous system, some situations may seem impossible for you. I used to struggle with anger. I’d lose it at times that were seemingly no big deal. In those moments, I felt separated from myself or ‘gone’ completely. My husband didn’t get angry like I did. I often wondered: What was my problem? Eventually and after some very odd out of body experiences, which I came to realize were flashbacks, I came to understand that I had trauma that I needed to heal. I used to think that having trauma meant that you were beaten severely or raped or you were in a very bad car crash or some other extremely serious situation. These types of tragic experiences can cause trauma. I thought trauma was only possible as a result of the previously mentioned intense physical or emotionally damaging experiences. I was not beaten or physically abused so I never imagined I was someone who could have trauma. As I began to study trauma, I realized I was holding trauma in my body from a car accident that happened in my 20’s. But the flashbacks I’d experienced specifically came from difficult experiences in my childhood.

My childhood wasn’t ideal, but it also wasn’t that bad. This is what I told myself for a long time.

And this sort of minimizing (telling ourself that something ‘wasn’t that bad’) is typical for lots of people with trauma, especially women. As a child, I was highly sensitive (still am). I also experienced repeated stress. This combination was the recipe for me to develop trauma. Not everyone develops trauma within the same set of circumstances – there is no set formula. I won’t get into all the details, but simply said, there was chaos in my growing up home. We weren’t beaten, but spankings were a common threat. There was love in the house but,

Connection – a need as important to humans as water and food – was scarce.

My dysfunctional parents’ modeling created a trickle down effect that profoundly shaped me. The stress I experienced most vividly was the shouting, extreme teasing, and unkind trickery I received from my siblings. Connecting with my siblings was not a safe endeavor for me. Realizing I had trauma was surprising but it helped me to grok why all the healing work I’d done to that point wasn’t enough to heal my angry outbursts. Somatic Experiencing helped me heal and create the safety and connection I’d always craved.

The point I want to make in this article is that your nervous system is unique and it is communicating with you all the time.

I often wondered if my siblings were traumatized by their childhood like I was. Frankly, since we are each so unique, this type of comparison is useless. I do know that telling myself ‘it wasn’t that bad’ was unhelpful, but it was the best I could muster until I got the right kind of help. What I came to understand is that my untamed anger was a fight response that was triggered in certain circumstances that had no discernible pattern. I also had plenty of times where I wanted to flee from situations before they happened or while I was in their midst. And when I was completely overwhelmed by something, I would freeze. What finally opened my eyes to my trauma was looking back on those weird out of body moments I’d experienced. After a series of particularly stressful situations, I recognized the sensation of freeze and remembered feeling the very same sensation many times as a child. This made me curious and I began to research trauma. Eventually I began seeing a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (which is the best move I ever made). If you freeze in certain situations that you believe “should not” be so scary that they are freeze inducing, or you feel agitated and want to fight in situations you believe are not truly worthy of aggression, or you hide from circumstances or flee from things altogether when there is no real threat: your body is speaking to you. Fight, Flight, and Freeze are your nervous system’s brilliant tools for working to keep you safe. If you recognize yourself in this description, you may have unresolved trauma. Your body does it’s very best to keep you safe in threatening situations. Please do your best to honor your body’s responses. If you feel your nervous system may hold some dis-regulation due to high levels of stress or unresolved trauma, I encourage you to seek support. I no longer struggle with anger. I am so grateful for this and all the other wonderful benefits I’ve received from Somatic Experiencing. If my story resonated and you’d like to talk, please get in touch.