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  • Writer's pictureKaren Law

Attention seekers and time wasters?

A young woman has been jailed for being suicidal. Her desperation led her to self medicating with alcohol and repeatedly going to a bridge she thought she could jump off to end the pain of living. Reading the news article I see that she has experienced trauma during her childhood years and understand why she cannot seem to find any peace. She is living with unresolved trauma. All the judge could see was the inconvenience this caused to others. He said her behaviour was "attention seeking of its worst kind" and put all the blame on to her, punishing her for her body’s responses to very traumatic experiences.

This makes me so very angry. She’s barely an adult. So what has she experienced to date? We are told she had a difficult upbringing. Yet she is pathologised and blamed for what has happened to her and her inability to function now as a result.

Read on if you wish to understand why I’m angry.

pic of a square shaped device. break rh glass in the centre to set an alarm off to warn of fire
fire alarm - break glass!

Have you ever been in a building when the alarm was ringing and couldn’t be switched off? I could not think straight when it happened to me last year. The stress, the noise, the pressure to do something was more than I could stand.

Our Autonomic Nervous System is part of the subconscious mind which regulates all the functions we don’t need to actively focus on, such as digestion, blood pressure, heart rate, urination and defecation, breathing, body temperature, and... the Fight/Flight response.

In normal circumstances part of the brain called the amygdala sounds the alarm when it senses a threat to life. It tells you to do something now! It releases adrenaline which will enable you to fight or run from the threat depending on which is most appropriate. If neither is you might go into freeze in the hope that the predator will lose interest and give you a chance to escape. And for some of you the only option might be to do whatever might keep an attacker from getting angry so you do what they say to prevent greater harm. This is what is known as the ‘fawn’ response. None of this is a conscious decision.


one large sphere on one side and 3 smaller spheres balanced on either side of a see-saw
optimal balance

So, this short term response is the body’s innate self preservation, which is designed to be activated for brief periods. Then when the threat to life is over the adrenaline released will dissipate and the body return to normal. Equilibrium will return.

This requires that you feel safe again, that you have the opportunity to make sense of what just happened. It also requires that you have the time to allow your body to discharge the energy that was released. If your body has resorted to freeze or fawn as it comes out of that it will tend to need to pass through an adrenaline rush before coming back to normal again.

If you can’t make sense of it all, don’t have a chance to talk to someone else about it, or don’t give your body the chance to expend the unspent energy it will seem to get stuck within the body. Energy doesn’t just disappear. It needs to discharge. Telling someone else you can trust about the shock you just had will discharge that energy. Going for a run, or using a punch bag can be how some people choose to release their stress. Allowing the body to tremble and shake until it settles will dissipate it. However, this is often not recognised as a suitable response and so is frowned upon. So you might do whatever is necessary to prevent trembling and shaking which risks locking the trauma in.

Many people might find it very difficult to disclose what they have experienced due to shame. So they struggle to process alone, often unsuccessfully.

Two different people experiencing the same shocking event might respond very differently depending on resources available and what previous experiences were. If you have people you feel you can talk to, if you can take time to process what happened and make sense if it you are unlikely to be traumatised by what happened. But if you don’t have anyone or don’t feel you can tell anyone what happened, if you don’t get the time or space to physically allow the adrenaline to dissipate it becomes locked in, and can be retriggered later.

two people sitting together, being in relationship with each other
Sitting in solidarity

Gabor Maté explains it like this:

(watch the video in the link above)

If someone always feels under threat repeatedly without having a chance to return to safety the alarm begins to malfunction. It might seem like it’s always on, or it rings at the slightest thing. For human beings this might mean, for example, that if someone experienced horrific events at the hands of a person who always wore a certain aftershave they might find that every time they smelled that aftershave they go into a panic, their amygdala thinks that person is back.

There will be likely be numerous triggers so the alarm can go off many times in any one day. Even though it may be many years or decades since the traumatic events you will feel exactly as you did then. It will feel so real. We call this flashbacks. Your senses will remember exactly what was happening then so you might smell, see, hear or taste what the body remembers from that time even though you might be nowhere near the people or places involved. Your body will release the adrenaline required to escape, all over again even through the actual threat is not there. So your heart rate increases, your breathing is rapid, you shake and you seem to be panicking for no good reason. Those around you will think you’re having panic attack or even hallucinating.

woman is looking stress, clasping her hands together while she rests her face against them
Stressed woman

Living like this can be very tiring. It can become almost impossible to function normally. People will resort to doing whatever is necessary to stop the flashbacks and nightmares. This often leads to using substances which can dampen the responses briefly. Anything to escape. But it’s only temporary. So you need more. Eventually you may take too much of the substance and your body can’t cope, you overdose. Or you just can’t face living like this anymore and you think it would be better for you and those around you if you were no longer there.

So this young woman repeatedly found herself at a bridge with the idea that she could jump off and make the pain stop. However, it seems her innate self preservation couldn’t quite allow her to jump. It takes a lot to override the body’s need to stay alive. People say it’s attention seeking and time wasting.

Attention seeking?

No! What she is seeking is an end to the pain of living with unresolved trauma. What can resolve it? To start it requires building a relationship of trust with someone who can make you feel safe. That is being attuned to the other. Attunement. That’s not so easy if the trauma has been at the hands of people who you should be able to trust like parents, teachers or other caregivers. So this can take time. Do you think that putting someone in prison, shaming them, is likely to be of benefit? I have no idea if she will receive any therapeutic support while she is locked up.

Conventional therapy on the NHS is often time limited which doesn’t make it easy for you to build the trust necessary to feel safe. There is usually a long waiting list which means the symptoms get worse while you’re waiting. And too often people find that staff change positions so this necessitates building a new relationship of trust all over again. When trust in others, and in yourself, has been so badly damaged by the experiences you’ve had this is not easy.

two pairs of hans, one pair enclosing the other to show support
being supported

What is offered is typically not a modality that accesses the subconscious mind. Remember that your fight or flight response is part of your autonomic nervous system. It’s part of the subconscious. Any therapy which requires the conscious mind to make changes will not reset the amygdala. It might provide a way to manage symptoms. But it won’t take them away.

You need an appropriate therapy that accesses the subconscious mind in order to reset the amygdala. There are a variety of therapeutic modalities which do that. Some are body based like massage, TRE, or Somatic Movement. Others involve talking about it but in a safe way. These would be things like EFT, NLP, hypnotherapy or QEC. The essential component to any of these is working with someone you feel you can trust and feel safe with.

I can work with you to build trust, to allow you to feel safe so that you can discharge the trauma within you at a pace to suit you. Ultimately it is important that you regain trust in yourself again.

If this resonates with you and you wish to take charge of your healing get in touch. We can first have a chat to discover if working together would feel right for you.

We can meet online using video conferencing tools for some of the therapies I offer and, when Covid restrictions allow, I can also offer in person sessions which could include a wonderful trauma sensitive massage.

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