How old, unresolved Trauma shows up during a pandemic

March 1, 2020

During this current pandemic, we might find old, dormant survival patterns resurfacing.


Things are changing frequently in many ways - there are so many Government rules to keep on top of. This takes brain power. Your brain is also adjusting to your internal 'rules' - social distancing, hand washing, mask wearing, arguing with family about which rules they are obeying. So your brain is using lots of power adapting to day to day changes which all takes energy. No wonder you're feeling tired and you don't feel like you've 'done' much.


Let's look at why and how that relates to our past.....


Covid-19 has brought us:


1. Uncertainty

2. Lockdown (a sense of being trapped)

3. Threats to our livelihood, food security and health

4. An overload of responsibility - working, child care, home schooling, care for relatives

5. Isolation - whether we're in self-isolation, shielding or just avoiding contact with others where possible

6. Loss, grief

7. Loss of normal routines 


Usually, when these experiences crop up in life, we have ways of coping... turning to others for support, getting out in nature, going for walks, planning time off, booking holidays, booking babysitters, holding ceremonies to mark important changes in life such as birth, marriage, death.


So not only has Covid brought us a challenging mix of circumstances, it has also taken away our tried and tested coping mechanisms. And it still keeps changing.


This is a perfect recipe for overwhelm. And if you tend to feel guilty when you think others have it worse, add guilt into that mix too.


We may be able to practice gratitude for all the things we do have, we might be able to rationalise our personal level of risk from Covid 19, we may be thankful to receive at least some furlough pay or Government support. And yet our nervous system is responding as if there is imminent danger because it 'remembers' this feeling from the past. This create internal conflict. Even without significant Trauma, living in global uncertainty can cause a low level of stress to fizz around in our system. People are seeing this show up in difficulty sleeping, lethargy, low mood, anxiety, anger and frustration.


When things get too much (and we can't access the necessary support), our brain is pre-programmed to shutdown all non-essential processes to save energy. When this happens we disconnect from our surroundings and other people. We also disconnect from ourselves. This defines Trauma. On the surface we often appear to be coping really well, not to be fazed by anything, to be really positive. This can be another barrier to authentic connection.


If we experienced this overwhelm when we were very young, when we were completely dependent, we likely experienced our only 'home' as unsafe. Our home might include our house, our family and/or our own body. This sets us up for long-term patterns of disconnection, dissociation and detachment: the freeze response.


So when a pandemic creates some of the same conditions as we experienced as children, our brain knows what to do. It does what it learnt to do back then - cut off, disconnect, freeze, withdraw. As children, we had no other option.


After Trauma, this life-saving freeze response keeps getting triggered by smaller and smaller events, even thoughts.


So people who experienced childhood Trauma may be even more vulnerable during a pandemic.


We may experience changes in:


BODY – numb, pain-free, disconnected, seizures, fainting.


THINKING – blank, can’t think, can’t talk.


EMOTIONS – overwhelmed, terror, doom, despair, helpless, hopeless, depressed, bliss (from our body's natural painkillers).


BEHAVIOUR – withdrawn, collapsed.


As children with no other options, this helped us survive.


Once the Trauma is over, if we don't receive adequate empathy, validation, understanding, care or protection from it happening again, then this mechanism stays 'on'. It is like the Trauma is still happening as far as our brain and nervous system are concerned so they continue trying to protect us.


How and when do these Trauma patterns show up for you in your body, thoughts, emotions or behaviour?


Noticing your own patterns is the first step to recovery, as you journey back to yourself. Once you recognise what is happening, you can be there for yourself as you learn to reconnect. So even a pandemic can be an opportunity to heal.





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