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How trauma becomes power


Blurred image of dancer twirling on stage in wide skirt, symbolizing the beauty of tranforming trauma into personal power

You’ve probably heard of the trauma responses fight and flight. You’ve likely even heard of the freeze response. Each of these responses is an autonomic nervous system state connected directly to your survival. When you’re living in survival mode, you are likely to trigger one or more of these responses in what can feel like an endless cycle.

 

Let’s reset the term a bit, though. Consider these responses as threat responses, even stress responses. Connecting them with trauma is accurate because they show up in reaction to traumatizing situations, and trauma can be the reason we feel stuck in one or more of them. But they are also a healthy and appropriate response of your nervous system to any perceived threat or stressor, and they can be triggered independent from trauma too.

 

Put another way, the fight, flight and freeze responses are not something that’s broken about us. They’re adaptive responses which have evolved with us from our reptilian and mammalian roots. They’ve protected us up to this very day, even if they might be preventing us from reaching the goals we want most in life. Instead of trying to heal them, what if we learned to relate to them in a way that serves us?

 

Stuck in a freeze response this winter, I decided it was time to leverage my dormant fight response to light some fire beneath me and move me from fear into courage. This was my first inkling that there are enormous upsides to each of our autonomic threat responses… as long as we have the presence of mind to use them consciously. In fact, our threat responses not only aid our survival but can grow to support our overall motivational drives, once we learn to transfer them from auto-pilot into intentional action.

 

This is what I love most about nervous system training: As you sharpen your neural network, your capacity for conscious, intentional awareness grows exponentially. With more intention and focus, and holding the keys to your own nervous system, it becomes possible to harness autonomic functionality in service of your higher potential.


Here’s a simple way to think about it: If you could retrain your knee-jerk reaction to an insult from being an urge to fight back or run away, would you become resilient in the face of adversity? Would you become immune to rejection? Would you be unstoppable?

 

Embracing your autonomic threat responses as a natural, powerful tool in pursuit of your dreams means letting go of the myth that they’re “wrong” or “bad.” They’re neither good nor bad, in truth; they’re just a part of survival that has evolved with us and remains an important part of our day-to-day existence.


  • You’re not going to “heal” yourself out of a fight response, but you’d be astounded by what becomes possible when you evolve that fight response with conscious neural awareness into the raw courage and fire behind that motivational drive.


  • Same goes for running away: Evolving a flight response with conscious awareness makes it possible to mobilize into action when you feel stuck, to change the parts of your life that don’t work and to reach for authentic levels of excellence short of the self-sacrifice required by perfectionism.

 

There is no room for shame when we start viewing our neural network as a comprehensive tool that is designed to help us even when its outputs conflict with what we think we want most. By moving away from associating fight, flight and freeze states with trauma, we see them more honestly as tools for overall healthy functioning. Hence the need to call them threat responses, because that’s what they actually are: mere responses to perceived threats in our environment.

 

Learn how to evolve each of your threat responses in my newly-launched video course. Special introductory pricing is available through Mothers' Day (May 12, 2024).

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