Mark and Arian started out on their counselling journey to work on their relationship issues. You can find out about some of the things they have learnt so far along the way including improving their communication skills, negotiating different opinions about parenting and how to become an adult in their adult relationship. Follow Mark into his second counselling session as he begins to work on his own trauma.
In the mean-time Mark has started to see the counsellor a few times on his own to deal with his struggles with James, his son, and has finally made the connection to his own past trauma: The loss of a friend in a car crash when he was 17 years old.
The past hijacks the present: the brain has evolved to help us remember
James’ care-free behaviour routinely brings up anger and frustration in Mark and he has begun to understand how his son triggers his own loss of freedom and the fear that care-free behaviour will ultimately lead to danger. Mark is effectively trying to control his son’s life because his brain has made a very powerful connection between his friend’s careless driving at the time and the other boy’s death.
The counsellor explains how the brain is optimised to function in an inherently hostile environment and has to keep us safe by quickly learning the signs in our environment that spell danger to our life. This skill has kept the human species alive and thriving and it is much older than our modern world. It is also fast and powerful and overrides the part in the brain responsible for processing events – the much younger prefrontal cortex.
We can only make one out of two basic assumption errors: the other one would lead to death!
Dr. Dan Siegel explains the two errors humans can make: the first one is to see a beige rock under some green leaves and assume it is a tiger. If we do that, we would run away. The second one is to assume a tiger is a beige rock behind some green leaves – and not run away. Error one we can make as often as we want and still be alive. Error number two, we can only really make once!!
Mark understands the importance of this mechanisms and gets much clearer about the link between James’ behaviour and his trauma: the brain alerts him to what it has learned in the past to be a decision that caused death.
How to deal with the internal hijack
The problem Marks struggles with is the speed with which this assumption arises in his brain! Before he knows what is going on, the past has hijacked the present moment. Mark has no ability to rationally think about James’ requests because he is not even present with James any more. He is trapped in his own activated survival system.
In session Mark becomes more familiar with this experience. He begins to learn to track his body’s activation and settling down with the counsellor’s guidance. This is an important step for him to build more confidence and trust in his own system. Mark experiences how his body responds to the alarm his brain raises while talking about James. He learns to make space and allow the activation to flow and ebb. And is surprised to find, the less he resists it the sooner it passes.
From management to healing – a powerful journey
This work is an important step toward delving into the actual experience itself. Mark has a strong sense of self and a supportive circle of family and friends. He also has the capacity to regulate his emotional experiences to a good degree. This is why, in the following session, the counsellor invites Mark to do some deeper work around the past trauma. You will find out next week, how that unfolds for Mark.
You might struggle with controlling emotional outbursts or have lost trust in yourself or the world around you. Or you might feel shut-down and disconnected or over-activated. If that is the case, you might be affected by the aftermath of trauma. Get in touch and book a free 45-minute check-in-session with Mattie now to find out how trauma-informed counselling can help you.