TRAUMA RESPONSES: ON F.I.G.H.T. Day 8. (9/16).
Last year on the 13th of June, 2020, my abuser came to the house to visit. It was a norm for him to walk in whenever he wanted without fear to see my parents, to pray with them, to have conversations about life like he didn't try to destroy mine. Even in school, he still hovered. He'd call me to find out what I was up to and I felt obligated to talk to him. I had his number engraved in my memory without it being saved on my phone. He stalked me on social media to see what I was up to. Everything was a nightmare and I felt trapped. Since my dad isn't aware he abused me, the only person I could talk to in hopes she'd protect me was my mother. Unfortunately, she was incapable of doing so. Instead, I was cautioned to let it go and move on. To forgive and allow the peace of God to fill my heart. Every visit left me with fear, sometimes leading to a panic attack. On this particular day, however, I wasn't just afraid, I was angry in a way I never thought possible. I got a wake-up call to protect myself rather than wait for someone else.
I called my partner after Pastor Ayo left to inform him, that way it'd be impossible to back out. Then I put a call across to Pastor Ayo. I called at exactly 10:25 pm that day to tell him never to come to my home again. It was supposed to be my safe space and I didn't want him there making me feel unsafe. He was shocked but it didn't deter him from making excuses. He asked to see me and my mum so we could talk it out. What he didn't know was, my response to being re-traumatized by him on that day was the fight response. I was ready to challenge him. I was frustrated with his visits and I wanted him to disappear. We agreed to meet in his church and he was exactly the abuser I knew. He spoke about it like it was a mistake we both agreed to. He didn't even apologize or call it what it was - child abuse. As I watched him invalidate my experience and refer to the abuse as "whatever happened", I lost control. It was explosive and I could feel my body physically reacting to the emotions. I was able to stop him from coming to my house but I didn't know how to stop being angry at the world, at him and my parents.
The fight response is exactly how it is termed, fight. In this state, your body is ready to fight to stop the threat. It doesn't matter how it's expressed and it can be scary. Like all other responses, it's a normal response to a threat. It has its benefits but one shouldn't remain stuck in this mode permanently. A fight response will have you reacting with so much aggression at unrelated things in the present due to things that happened in the past. I catch myself boiling up with rage towards my mother at her naivety. Sometimes when I'm angry at her over something, it's really because she found out about the abuse and still welcomed my abuser into our home. She chose to protect her marriage instead of me. In that state, I can feel the well of anger just brewing waiting to overflow. People who are unaware of trauma responses just go with it. They charge into that situation, in the same manner, they did or wish they did when they were in actual danger. They're overly aggressive in times of conflict which can bring about some troubling behavior such as breaking objects, threatening others, and so on. The goal is self-preservation. To make sure they never experience such pain, to end it right there. A person stuck in a fight response can't differentiate between what needs aggression or not. Once they sense a familiar pattern from the past, they have an outburst. When the outburst is over, they feel a lingering shame and guilt so they act and pretend like it never happened. Such a person has difficulties pausing to listen in a situation and is unable to evaluate different options. As leaders, they can be difficult to work with. Always assuming someone is out to get them thus responding by attacking so they're not taken by surprise. As siblings, they can be dominating, unable to make room for anyone else's needs except theirs. As partners, their loved ones may never know what reaction to expect from them. It may be difficult for others around them to relax without fear of ticking them off.
Here's the deal, if you're in this state, you're not overreacting per se. I mean, it may look like it in the present but internally, something is overwhelming you. It's not about what's happening in your presence, there's a pattern you're afraid of that's playing out in front of you. This is what I think you should do.
1. Unravel your anger.
Our emotions can cover up our actual emotions and anger is no different. You may be afraid or sad over an event in the past. Get to the root of it. Don't just charge at things. Your anger may be preventing you from grieving something you lost in the past. It may be a good connection. It may be good childhood memories, look within.
2. Pause and reflect.
You have to practice pausing first before reacting. When something ticks you off, question it. When I'm angry at my mum, I walk away or hold myself back from lashing out. I try to find out the best way to convey my message. It's not easy but keep practicing.
I suggest walking but you can do anything that puts you at ease and allow you to think properly. Feel your anger, sadness, and fear. Let the tears roll freely. Anger can be felt without an unnecessary transfer of aggression into the world.
"And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil".
Ephesians 4:26-27 NLT