PTSD: From Fight to Flow

PTSD: From Combat to Stream


There is no doubt Will Smith was triggered on the Oscars Sunday night time. The world watched as he walked on stage — clearly in combat mode — and slapped Chris Rock for joking about his spouse Jada Pinkett Smith’s bald head.

Like seven million different Individuals and me, Jada Pinkett Smith suffers from alopecia, which causes hair loss.

Anybody who chooses assault over communication is in survival mode as a result of combat mode is essentially the most fundamental survival mode your mind employs.

Now tongues are wagging, and tweets are flying around the globe, making snap judgments about which star holds the ethical excessive floor on this Oscars debacle. As an alternative of additional polarizing individuals, let me ask key questions on Will Smith’s option to combat when he was triggered. Hopefully, this could make clear what you’ll be able to study from the story to construct practices that can mean you can keep away from combat mode in favor of circulate mode, the state your mind chooses while you efficiently begin to heal from PTSD or different psychological accidents.

Understanding Combat, Flight, Freeze, and Stream

When confronted with a stimulus, your mind’s most elementary determination is binary: does this carry security or hazard? This preliminary notion prompts your nervous system’s response. Whether or not you will have PTSD or not, your nervous system will select for you: combat, flight, freeze, or circulate.

Let’s unpack these decisions your nervous system makes for you.

Lesson One: Combat

There’s an outdated saying in 12-step applications, “You do not have to attend each combat you are invited to.” I really like this saying as a result of it illustrates effectively what goes on in your mind when somebody “bucks up on you,” as they are saying in my native Kentucky, the place I introduced the neighborhood pedophile to justice once I was 18 years outdated.

I’m open in regards to the advanced PTSD I expertise because of that trauma, and I write about it to share with others how I’ve come to heal my psychological damage. Will Smith additionally writes overtly in his guide about his PTSD experiences as a younger boy unable to guard his mom from bodily beatings. He, like me, felt uncontrolled in an amazing scenario — and people childhood perceptions formed the grownup brains of Will Smith, myself, and anybody with PTSD.

When an unhealed PTSD mind will get triggered by circumstances that remind it of previous abuse, decisions to circulate quite than combat/flight/freeze turns into difficult. So when Jada’s look was mocked, Will Smith’s mind made a collection of perceptions that led to a combat response.

The PTSD set off might have entered his mind when Chris Rock made the joke. Will first laughed on the joke — after which seemed to his spouse for her response, seeing her roll her eyes. Shortly after, Smith walked up on stage, slapped Rock, after which sat again down, loudly and explicitly instructing him to by no means converse of Jada in a comedy routine once more.

You may see clearly on this instance how the mind receives phrases and exterior stimuli based mostly on previous experiences to choose to combat — to fend off threats perceived as actual and threatening. Even when the logical a part of the mind is saying, “Cease, this does not make sense in civilized society,” the reptilian a part of the mind, centered on survival, chooses to combat. In Will Smith’s case, the cameras had been rolling.

Individuals who expertise overwhelming conditions resembling abuse, warfare, or trauma might develop PTSD, even when their brains and our bodies had been wholesome earlier than the incident. Consider PTSD as a scar on the mind or an damage. Whenever you fall within the bathe (like I did final month), your leg and arm could also be sore and injured for some time. (My knee nonetheless kills me! It has been weeks.) Whereas a fall leads to seen scars, you’ll be able to see and really feel, the scars in your mind is probably not as evident.

Nevertheless, PTSD psychological damage nonetheless causes hypervigilant perceptions when the PTSD is triggered. It is very important study your PTSD triggers, resolve to consciously select circulate, and follow making decisions that do not embody combating.

Self-care, stillness practices, remedy, and private growth are methods to follow one thing apart from combating.

Lesson Two: Flight

One other response PTSD survivors make when triggered is to flee. After I realized Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, my professor advised me leaving an attacker is a stable selection when the choice is staying and combating. To really feel protected whereas strolling trails within the Nice Smoky Mountains the place I stay, I needed to know precisely the best way to “choke out” an attacker, so I might combat again if attacked.

I bear in mind the boys in my group simply me when requested the query. They had been fairly stunned that I had thought by the entire assault from the purpose of contact to what I might do when fingers touched me.

The police officer within the room merely stated, “Michelle, choke out the man till he is unconscious, decide up a giant rock, break his leg, after which run again to your automobile. Get away. You may stay if you happen to get away.”

After I was molested as a toddler, I hadn’t realized to run away but. I sat like a lifeless possum, enjoying lifeless, pretending to not really feel the foot tickles and touches my physique skilled by the hands of a pedophile. In an grownup physique, my scared eight-year-old mind takes over once I’m touched, even by my loving husband.

So studying to calm the nervous system and mind when triggered is a life-long course of that each one trauma victims can solely study with follow and by placing themselves in conditions of self-care and mock survival.

That is why I really like martial arts for PTSD. Whereas it confronted my capacity to be accountable for my physique, it was a strong option to follow selecting a response to combat or flee. Because of this, I not mouth off at the one that cuts me in line on the grocery retailer. In the present day, I merely stroll again to my automobile. No breaking of the legs is critical.

Lesson Three: Freeze

As soon as after having intercourse, my husband held me and stated, “Michelle, are you there? The place did you go? Are you residence? Hiya! Michelle!” Having been sexually abused by a neighbor my household trusted to look after me, I typically freeze when touched. For those who’ve ever held a limp animal, that’s the way it feels to carry an grownup who’s in freeze mode.

Lovers all through my life, like my husband, handle the “freeze” of my physique and the religious distance it creates by speaking with me to get my spirit again into my physique. For those who’re in a relationship with an individual with PTSD, persistence and communication are two profitable modes of self-care — not just for you however the mentally injured individual you’re keen on.

Above all else, by no means take their freeze mode personally. Their PTSD is solely triggered, and their mind and physique have chosen to freeze as a substitute of fleeing or combating. Communication, empathy, and understanding are the keys to shifting from freeze to circulate.

In the present day, my husband hardly ever experiences me “freezing” after we make love. Nevertheless, triggers are a life-long actuality. Each time I believe they’ve all handed, a brand new reminiscence involves the floor for therapeutic. These days, I have been doing plenty of physique care, together with acupuncture.

Throughout my neurofeedback and my acupuncture remedies, I remembered as if, for the primary time, my perpetrator tickled my toes as his entry level into my abuse. I had forgotten that the expertise was why I loathed tickling.

In the present day, I welcome new recollections and triggers as I notice it is my physique and mind therapeutic. Whereas tears might stream down my face whereas I study to simply accept therapeutic and wholesome touches on my toes, I am not positioned in fight-or-flight mode when tickled.

Maybe Jada and Will Smith will come to not detest feedback about alopecia. Perhaps the physique’s pure technique of getting older and interacting with its surroundings will lead me increasingly more towards stillness and circulate and away from combat, flight, or freeze mode. However what’s one of the simplest ways to circulate when triggered?

Lesson 4: Stream

After the awards ceremony ended Monday, I discovered myself on a Zoom name with Adam Markel, writer of Change Proof: Leveraging the Energy of Uncertainty to Construct Lengthy-term Resilience. After I advised him I used to be scripting this piece about Will Smith, Markel jogged my memory how he teaches purchasers to defuse their triggers: self-care routines.

I thought of this recommendation from his guide that I nonetheless do months after studying it: For 30 days, attempt brushing your tooth together with your non-dominant hand. It will get the mind used to vary, and it reprograms your physique to adapt. It is step one to changing into what Markel calls “change proof.” Embracing change, embracing my triggers, and even embracing my PTSD is how I study to circulate.

As I brush my tooth with my non-dominant hand, I follow being current and selecting my reactions. It could sound like a foolish follow to you, however one factor I’ve realized in 34 years of therapeutic is that self-care is a life-long journey.

Markel recommends self-care routines to take care of change, and on this planet of psychological damage, self-care can be the important thing to long-term therapeutic. Self-care begins with one step, or — as in my path to circulate — one brushstroke, one-foot rub, and yet one more selection from second to second.

I can solely think about that the times for the reason that Oscars have introduced Will Smith to understand that his option to combat on Monday stands in stark opposition to the picture he has cultivated and the respect he has earned from his friends. He stands for peace and fierce love for household in his personal phrases. Peace and fierce love for others begin with caring for ourselves.

Hopefully, this can be a wake-up name for Will Smith and anybody else affected by a psychological damage from the previous.


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