The Moment Healing Happens In Your Mind
It’s not always obvious how much trauma, especially CPTSD and attachment trauma, distorts our view of reality. Seeing through these distortions and dealing with reality as it is in the present is a primary goal of healing.
Trauma is a confusing-memory-with-reality problem. Our nervous system becomes patterned and organized for survival within an unhealthy environment, and then when the environment changes, our brain does not keep up. Even when it’s no longer adaptive, we keep responding with the habitual patterns that helped us survive the past.
Part of how the brain keeps us reacting with the same behavior is by projecting the past onto the present. This confusion becomes so entrenched that it appears stable and we think we actually are seeing reality, instead of seeing reality through the lens of a memory.
I want to lead you through my fear of being seen, the defenses that keep that fear in place, and a recent moment where I could experience in real-time my mind rewiring itself away from traumatized distortion and back to reality.
This is what it looks like to rewire your brain.
(Note: These are excerpts and edited a bit for clarity, not a verbatim transcript.)
I was having a conversation yesterday with a friend who I am in an informal attachment and CPTSD healing group with. We were chatting about the differences between Anxious-Preoccupied and Fearful Avoidant and I was sharing about my experience as an FA and how hard it was to be vulnerable:
While I’m sharing, I’m tracking my body. I’m feeling hot, starting to sweat, and crying a little. But I want to stay with it, because this is exactly what I need to heal: my terror of being vulnerable with other people. And this is exactly where I can do it: within the safety of a friendship that I trust with someone who has demonstrated they not only can understand me, but also care about me. And it’s also at a level of intimacy I can handle: on text, rather than face to face.
She responded that it was something she had noticed and a celebration:
Just reading this was hard because it is an indicator I had been seen, but it is also undoing the fear, which is If I am seen, I will be hurt.
I wrote more about what it feels like:
We went back and forth for awhile and I can see just looking over the transcript how resistant I am to receiving care and concern. It feels like I have to constantly monitor how I am perceived so it doesn’t dip into the territory of someone feeling sorry for me or turning me into “the broken one”. I was managing to ride the wave between my desire for connection and my fear of being mocked when she wrote:
My mind immediately said, “She’s making fun of you. She’s being patronizing. Deflect. Defend. Say you go in and out of being social because you’re an ENFP, not because of trauma. Don’t let her think this about you.”
And then another part of my mind was able to say, “That explanation just cannot be true, it makes no sense. I am having the feeling of something being true that is not true.”
In that moment, I was able to choose reality over my projection.
I was able to see the filter my traumatized mind had put on my reality, and make a choice to disbelieve it. And in that moment, what used to feel like obvious reality became an obvious illusion.
That, I believe, is the moment healing is happening on the brain level. The neural network of “perceive attack and find a way to defend or protect” is neutralized when you realize there has been no attack in the first place. It never happened. It was a projection of a mind that had to become so good at scanning the world for potential attacks that it now reads them into situations where they don’t exist.
There are a lot of components to healing that went into this moment:
- acknowledging and grieving a childhood where I never felt safe to be vulnerable
- learning what a healthy childhood was supposed to be like
- developing the ability to be mindful about what my mind is doing while it is happening
- developing a habit of self-validation which relieved my emotional intensity
- becoming aware of my body’s signals and tracking them so I could stay within a range I can tolerate and not go into a dysregulated panic state
- processing acute trauma triggers when they arise
So this moment I’m describing isn’t the only moment. It’s just such a very cool moment to watch in real-time. And it’s a moment that represents an integration of everything that has been worked on up until that point.
Healing moments ripple through your brain and re-organize your reality.
I learned to be smart and helpful to survive. I always have something to say that hides my vulnerability and presents a strong image. But as long as I can remember, my core organizing principle has been fear. The process of healing reorganizes one’s sense of internal and external reality to be based in love and safety rather than fear and defense. So this small moment of recognizing present-moment safety when my body was suggesting otherwise is a step toward shifting the ground I walk on.
This morning when I woke up, I had an explosion of ideas about how I could expand this blog and my efforts to educate people about how they can heal their own trauma. I felt a new embodied sense of of course my ideas have value that I’d never felt before.
How is this related? Because up until now, my helping others has always been in some way a strategy around concealing my fear. It was never just about helping, it was also about hiding. And, well, it’s hard to truly show up and teach if you are actually also trying to hide! So for this and other reasons, all of my efforts at teaching have been undertaken with a kind of ambivalence. I can feel as I heal my underlying trauma patterns that this ambivalence is unravelling. This is part of the non-linear nature of healing trauma: you don’t know what other parts of your life will change when you start.
So this is an encouragement: keep going. You don’t know when these moments will occur, but every step you take of learning about trauma, listening to yourself, loving yourself, validating yourself, and asking for help lays the groundwork for them.
The wonderful thing about healing is you don’t actually need to know how to get there.
All you need to do is commit to walking in the direction of healing. In every moment, you can feel the fear and you can feel there is something calling you toward the liberation from that fear. There is always the option to do what you’ve always done, and the option to try something that feels new and uncertain but also like an opening to a better place. The healing journey is just the continual choosing of that liberating direction, whatever it is in the present moment, over and over and over again.
Sometimes people ask me if they really can heal. The reason I am 100% confident in healing is that healing is based on the truth and the truth is always true. So you are always choosing between an emotionally compelling illusion and the truth. That illusion will start to crumble over time as you work with it. The truth won’t.
- It will always be true that there are people who are safe, even if the ones you grew up with were not.
- It will always be true that you are lovable, even if you don’t feel that way.
- It will always be true that it wasn’t your fault, even if you can’t believe that yet.
These truths will never go anywhere, so they can be relied upon. That is why healing is always possible: because there is always a truth we can use to navigate. Sometimes it is hard to see, and hard to find, and hard to follow, but we can always rest in the knowledge that it is there waiting for us, and it’s not going anywhere.
There have been so many nights I’ve laid awake at night and told myself, “I don’t know how to get to where I want to go, but I know it is there and I know I am headed in the right direction, and I know I am closer than I was before, so therefore I know I will get there someday.”
When it comes to childhood trauma, healing is a journey that you are taking to a place you have never been. That requires tremendous faith, but it’s not an outrageous thing to have faith in. You’re not asking for anything but to inhabit the same reality that people with healthy childhoods get to live in.
It can seem far away, but at the same time, it’s all around you. I do not mean to make it sound easy; it’s not. But it is completely possible, and all it requires is continual effort to choose truth over illusion, reality over fantasy, love over fear, growth over familiarity, and the present over the past.