What trauma teaches us about stress…
Sorry for the silence. I’ve been traveling like crazy (which incudes literally going around the world for business) and… I’ve also been doing some work on myself. Maybe it was subconsciously inspired by the concept of vulnerabilities that I explored in my last post, but I found myself digging into the extreme forms of stress that make me feel most vulnerable… namely, grief and trauma.
What is possibly one of the most powerful concepts I discovered was that the core feeling driving trauma (and I would offer both grief and stress are equally included) is the feeling of helplessness.
This is profound on so many levels (ping me if you want to spend some time going down that rabbit hole), but in order to provide a reasonable focus to this post, let me get to a very fine point: the root cause of our stress-inducing fears is when we feel helpless.
More specifically, when we feel helpless to achieve success (or to avoid failure), we feel stress.
When we feel helpless to achieve significance (or to avoid rejection), we feel stress.
When we feel helpless to achieve control (or to avoid the unknown), we feel stress.
Good stress doesn’t leave us feeling helpless. Bad stress certainly does. And to make matters worse, stress (and grief) becomes traumatic when it passes the tipping point of our personal tolerance level of helplessness.
Here is where it gets really fascinating for me: the strength of that helplessness is going to be driven by what Martin Seligman called the 3 P’s:
- Personalization: The belief that we are at fault
- Permanence: The belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever
- Pervasiveness: The belief that an event will affect all areas of our life
In other words, our chosen beliefs drive our sense of helplessness. Which means that our greatest vulnerability to stress – and our greatest source of incredible resilience – is our learned mindset regarding helplessness.
If/when we believe that helplessness is “my fault” or will “last forever” or will “affect everything” – well… nothing good will come of it. We will become stressed and stay there. Reliving the stress/grief/trauma as long as we feel helpless about how personal/permanent/pervasive the experience is.
But if/when we believe that helplessness is simply a part of everyone’s Life experience, that it will regularly show up (and disappear), and that there are still positive, powerful elements to our lives beyond the junk we have to deal with – well… we become resilient as hell.
We rise above the situation.
Stress becomes a short-term experience, if we experience that kind of stress at all.
And we then have the ability to be the best version of ourselves.
Which is what the Journey is all about, isn’t it?
I mua. Onward and upward.
PS If this post triggered some deeper thoughts and/or feelings for you, please reach out to me directly. I genuinely care – and I would be honored to walk part of your journey with you.
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