After a traumatic experience, it’s natural to want to forget everything that happened to you. Doing everything humanly possible to avoid pain is one of the most natural human instincts. If you are not a first responder and now you see a building on fire, your natural tendency is likely to run away rather than into the building. After a traumatic experience, the emotional toll can be so great that people avoid anything that reminds them of what happened. Some people’s efforts to block residual trauma feelings may look like they are adjusting avoidance behaviors to avoid feelings of pain, also known as trauma blocking.
What is trauma blocking? Trauma blocking is an attempt to block out and overwhelm remaining painful feelings due to trauma. You may be asking, “What does trauma blocking behavior look like?
· Trauma blocking is excessive use of social media and compulsive pointless scrolling.
· Binge drinking every weekend because you are not working.
· Overeating and senseless eating, even when you are not hungry
Compulsive training to achieve a goal you are never satisfied with.
It is uncomfortable to be alone, which results in staying in toxic relationships long after the expiration date.
· Feeling uncomfortable when you have nothing to do and the need to always get projects done.
Compulsive online shopping for things you don’t need and debt.
· Becoming a workaholic and having poor boundaries at work, including 24/7 availability
An example of this is a customer called Shanta * who I worked with. Shanta grew up in a household with one parent struggling with substance abuse. She lived in several houses and often changed schools as a child because her parents were unstable. She was also sexually molested by a family friend and never told her parents for fear that they would take revenge on the perpetrator. Shanta was black and did not want to involve the police, fearing that her family would also try to harm the person harassing her.
What has Shanta done to cope with and alleviate the pain of her trauma? She turned to what was most available to her – the food. Food became her consolation. The food was always there and was one of the few things in her life that she was in control. Her parents let her go to the store for her, and she always got extra money to buy junk food. Those trips to the store as a kid developed into compulsive eating, which resulted in Shanta becoming overweight. This had an extra dividend, she felt that being overweight made her less visible and desirable to men.
Shanta, like many survivors, blocked their pain. Survivors often block their pain with things that are most accessible to them. Aside from food, alcohol can be a trauma blocker. One of the main factors causing relapse for people struggling with alcohol addiction is having the memories they used of alcohol to avoid running back when they sober up. Alcoholism becomes a solution to the trauma and, over time, more alcohol is needed to relieve the pain.
Trauma blocking behaviors induce sedation, relaxation, and numbness, which produce reactions in the brain that act as pain relievers. For the survivor of the trauma, this means numbing the pain in order to feel pain free. The problem is that the brain adapts and the compulsive behavior becomes necessary to continue in order to avoid pain.
Behaviors that block trauma may feel like they are at work, as some of the effort can be very rewarding. The pain relievers like designer bags, exotic pre-COVID-19 vacations, and luxury vehicles that people get from receiving rewards for destroying work goals can be great. The result of being a high achiever at work trying to cope with the pain of trauma can be very rewarding … for a moment. The satisfaction of this feat is only temporary as it is a coping mechanism to avoid pain. Because of this, many people who use work to avoid the feelings of trauma are often always unhappy in their search for the next big project or promotion.
Despite all that can be done to block the trauma, the mind and body will continue to process what happened, even with all attempts to block the pain. Without intentional thought, this can look like flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, and intrusive thoughts. In this way, the body tries to process and process the trauma you have blocked.
All of this is by no means easy. Trauma survivors use blocking techniques to relieve long-lasting pain. Awareness is the first step in combating blockages from trauma. Investigate how blocking trauma is negatively affecting your life. Keeping a log of what is happening before activity is blocked is a helpful way of moving towards awareness and behavior change. Once consciousness is reached, people can create a plan that includes healthier ways to calm themselves.
Having a plan in advance is very important in stopping trauma blocking behavior. An example might be, “I will listen to a guided meditation if I am tempted to reply to an email that is not intended for emergencies.” Also, think about the price you can pay by continuing avoid dealing with pain by blocking the trauma for the long term. Consider whether you boldly and gently begin the path of confrontation with what happened to you by eventually dealing with patterns of trauma blocker behavior. Since this work is not easy, consider working with a licensed therapist who uses a trauma-informed approach.
* Names and identifying information have been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Your stories and experiences are real.
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