Like many people with trauma in the past, I loooooove a good bit of drama. I’m not saying it’s good for me. I’m just saying that I have had an inexplicable attraction to things that involve intense emotions — things like seeing babies born, peering at a car wreck, falling in love, pondering the Holocaust, watching TV shows about medical emergencies, and yes, reading Facebook posts from my friends who are exploding with white-hot rage these last couple of days. I have not doubt they are having genuine fear and pain, but whether I agree or disagree with them, I notice that reading their posts makes me feel TERRIBLE.
In the recovery world, there is an oft-quoted idea that “anger is the dubious luxury of normal men.” I think the same might be true for me and others who had some crappy crap in their childhood.Believe me: I understand that anger is natural and necessary and realistic sometimes. But we all know people who have indulged in rants, tantrums and arguments to the point that it is like a trance, or a drug, or a pick-me-up. We might (ahem) have done this ourselves at times. People who had a crappy childhood often have a sense of emptiness inside, and this deadness generates depression. Anger can give us a focus, something outside of ourselves, some power inside.
I saw a lot of violence in the home when I was little, much of it sparked by liberal/conservative arguments between my parents. My husband finds political arguments entertaining. For me they are like kryptonite. I find it very hard to express myself around people who could potentially blow up at me, or (gasp) unfriend me. I used to think this sensitivity was a quaint legacy of my childhood but these days it’s actually pretty crazy out there.
They day I learned to get some relief from fear and resentment, I started to notice that “trauma loves drama.” My fury was like a warm jacket, a shot in the arm, a boyfriend I didn’t want to leave. When I experienced peace, it felt a lonely, empty and boring. So my mind would scan the horizon for something to be pissed about. God knows, it’s easy to find things.
I use the word “Inside Trauma” for the things we do, in an attempt to feel better, that just retraumatize us, and leave us with very little ability to reason, to express ourselves, to hear others or to take smart actions. Brain scans show that much of the left brain goes quiet when we are thinking of traumatic things. And heart rate variability, which is regular and even in normal people, reveals that those of us with PTSD do indeed overreact.
And then we flatline. You can see it in my incredibly scientific drawing here:
In my list of 15 Inside Traumas, I include black & white thinking — a tendency to see things as all or nothing, to be be drawn to extreme views, groups, authority figures, to be often outraged at the news, to gossip and slander others, to cut of contact with people with who see things differently, and to find ourselves in situations where we lose our freedom to disagree or get away.
Let’s just admit it: Anger feels delicious sometimes. But used like a drug, it is disabling. So use caution in exposing yourself to others’ anger. Like on Facebook, for example.
Yes, I’m posting this on Facebook. So if you’ve browsed your way to this post, and you notice that you too are feeling short-circuited by the negativity, I suggest you take a break. If taking action is your thing, you’ll know what to do, and the best time to do it will be after you’ve got your brain nice and re-regulated and your heart in the right place!
Love one another. And let’s be careful out there.