Everyone has a shadow self—the unconscious, at times unhinged persona that surfaces from time to time. Our shadow self is our unhealed self; the behavior that we may not be aware of, that keeps us stuck in old thought and behavior patterns. We may not notice these patterns but we do notice when we feel uncomfortable or find ourselves interacting in a way we’d rather not. It’s these moments, when looked at with a magnifying glass, that can reveal trauma that is stuck and keeps replaying itself. For you see, trauma internalizes inferiority, grips us in a fight-flight, flee, or fawn response, and manifests via negative behavior patterns and loss of self-identity.
As discussed in our previous blog on What is Trauma, trauma isn’t always a huge, single event; it can be chronic, less-obvious abuse, discrimination, or neglectful behavior from others that threatens our humanity and sense of safety. As humans, when we’re not experiencing safety, faulty alarm systems signal us to think and feel like danger is lurking. The rational and emotional minds have disconnected.
Whether we know it or not, fear surfaces, disguised as behavior patterns no one wants to claim, and often deny having. The language center of the brain has a difficult time translating inferiority into words. To admit we have flaws and have become disconnected from our truest essence is the beginning of a staggering awakening. It’s not always pretty or fun, but it’s possible that you could be holding yourself back from experiencing more contentment and less suffering. How do these unsavory behaviors show up? Read on…
Codependent behaviors show up at one point or another for everyone, simply because humans are hardwired for connection, according to our friend Brené Brown. Therefore, it’s inevitable that at some point we go over the deep end, striving for approval, validation, and/or acceptance. However, there are some who have woven their existence in and through the reactions and approval of others. What does all that weaving do? It creates a basket case.
How does this lead to codependency?
At some point in life, there likely could have been an experience, or threat of experiencing, the loss of someone close to you. This loss gets registered in the brain as abandonment and/or neglect. Both of which can be traumatic. To one that experience the trauma of loss or abandonment, the thought of being alone is terrifying, and everything must be done to keep that from happening (again). Even if that means existing solely to keep people from leaving.
When a person feels threatened by people leaving, life begins to revolve around pleasing other people or groups of people with the sole purpose of keeping them around. The motivation for your behavior is to boost your self worth through how well you have been able to keep people close to you and happy. As a result, you behave in a way that anticipates positive reinforcement, or when positive reinforcement is not given, you are then overcompensating for the expectation you did not meet. Regardless, a person that is codependent bypasses their personal needs to feed the need of approval and it becomes exhausting. Heightened stress hormones, like cortisol, are inevitably elevated and control of the emotional self is lost.
Fun fact: frequent high levels of cortisol are an evidence-based cause of depression. Your brain is unable to keep up with such fluctuations of the mind. Yoga Sutras verse 1.2 states, Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuating mind.
A terrifying word! Resentment comes from festered anger that has been suppressed from experiencing traumatic events. The resentment can be directed toward a person/people or the traumatic situation itself that left you feeling broken. Resentments aren’t only applicable toward people or institutions, you can resent life itself or a Higher Power (God, Buddha, Goddess, Allah, Brahman, Krishna, etc.). When things happen that are frightening, unexpected, damaging, and/or shameful, it is common to rely on anger and blame as a coping mechanism, even if you don’t know you’ve done so.
“Blaming is a universal human trait that helps people feel good while feeling bad…” -Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
Your feelings are valid. It’s good to be angry and feel all the feels! However, it’s what you do with those feelings that determines your mental-health trajectory. Bury it? No good. That’s going to further damage your mental health, your outlook on life, and your somatic well-being.
How does one know if they resent someone or something? It’s difficult to put into words, but here goes. When someone(s) or something in your life presses your buttons (beyond the common, natural annoyances) and you find that no matter what they do/don’t do or what you do/don’t do, you struggle to give them grace. You may feel an undertow of anger that you can’t quite shake. That may be resentment cunningly manifesting itself. The receiver of resentful behavior may not have anything to do with the trauma you suffered, however, they may be an unconscious reminder or trigger for buried emotions caused by the trauma that hasn’t been addressed.
Your feelings could be directed toward a person or a large group of people like a religion or political institution; a holiday, a co-worker, a time of year; a loved one, or anything that subtly triggers your deep buried experience. The trauma wound runs deep; internal and external work needs to be done and it’s extensive. It could take years of therapy (which is essential, by the way), somatic body work, shadow work, or a number of other therapeutic modalities to unearth conscious/unconscious resentments. This recovery process cannot be rushed; epiphanies are revealed when the universe knows you’re equipped to face them. Therapy is your first and hardest step. Find a therapist that specializes in trauma therapy and bonus if they practice EMDR techniques.
The 3rd and final scary word. There are books written on shame for a reason. It’s a lot. It’s a lot to carry, a lot to experience, a lot to share. Trauma is a precursor to shame Trauma and shame exist simultaneously, and it will make you believe things about yourself that you wouldn’t say to your worst enemy. Shame expert, Brené Brown says it so well:
“If you put shame in a petri dish, it needs three ingredients to grow exponentially: secrecy, silence, and judgment.” – Brené Brown
Trauma wants to be kept secret, so it can fester and strengthen. The over-powering feeling that’s embodied when a traumatic memory is triggered…that’s shame. When shame inflames, autonomy is revoked and there’s a sense of being scolded like a child. Your ego might say, “I am bad”, instead of “I made a mistake.” Acute somatic sensations manifest and you may experience and array of feelings such as rush of heat down your face, throat, and belly, slight nausea, dry mouth, trembling, inability to focus, and much more. Emotionally, you may simultaneously feel like you want to cry and punch a wall. It’s different for everyone and you must remember that trauma response=freeze.
With years of work, shame can be identified on the spot, which is a life-changing ability. Identify the feeling (which, in this case, is shame), then the trigger…it could be a million different (predictable or unpredictable) things. Observe the shame, look it dead in the eye, and tell it that you’re not afraid anymore; you’re worthy of all the good things; you are not a bad person, and nothing is wrong with you.
A major way trauma takes life is addiction. Addiction is too extensive a topic to expound upon within this publication, but it’s important to identify that it lives among trauma. Addiction is a vicious animal born of trauma and also causes trauma. Many individuals wrestle with addiction who do not realize they are addicted because it hides behind the normalcy of social drinking, recreational drug use, and it could never happen to me mentality. Commonly believed that addiction solely refers to drug and alcohol abuse, it actually manifests as codependent behavior—seeking the rush of approval, being addicted to negativity and drama—giving a rush of superiority to others, and less obvious addictions such as sex, eating, caffeine, sugar, shopping, gaming, and tech use. While some may not be directly a result of trauma, all addictions are a way of avoiding or silencing feelings you do not want to face. Not talked about enough, addiction keep people disconnected from authentic, content living.
What can I do about it?
That’s a loaded question. So many places to look and people to learn from.
Resources are plentiful, and I’ll share a few here…
- Therapy. Therapy is an amazing service to help you deal with life’s traumas and triggers. There is always self-reflection and awareness that can be tweaked and a trusted therapist lends an unbiased non-judgemental listening ear. Trauma-informed care with a provider who practices EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is highly encouraged to process your personal traumatic experiences.
- Read. To address codependent behaviors, start with The Language of Letting Go, by Melody Beatty. She writes short, daily reflections for all 365 days of the year. This text is powerful, and if you don’t think some of the readings pertain to you, just wait a year; trauma unveils itself layer by layer throughout a lifetime. Beatty also wrote Codependent No More, a non-fiction guide to detaching and taking your life back. Anything by Dr. Gabor Mate is going to teach self-awareness and healing techniques. Dr. Mate is brilliant. How to Do the Work by Dr. Nicole LePera is also a powerful non-fiction that addresses trauma and several other internal human struggles. We just so happen to be studying this book for the next couple of months at Ignite’s Mindful Book Study. Join us for discussion and connection as we dissect each chapter together.
- Podcasts. Listen to the experts. The is so much information to soak in. Listen to podcasts like How to Do Hard Things (Glennon Doyle); Unlocking Us (Brene Brown); . All you have to do is search codependency, trauma, resentments, or shame in your preferred podcast app, and hundreds of selections will appear.
- Mutual support groups. A member-led, people-centered, fellowship that is usually based upon the 12 steps of AA; however, adapted for codependency and other matters affecting mental health. There is power in group vulnerability and shared experience. These meetings are a treasure trove of experience, strength, and hope from those who have been in your shoes.
- Journal. Write to or about yourself every day. Simple and profound.
- Practice mindfulness. What a healing modality, and it’s as accessible as closing the eyes and taking mindful breaths. A daily mindfulness practice is recommended to countless people, many reply that they don’t have time or they don’t know how. Apps such as Insight Timer, Calm, and Ten Percent Happier will get you well on your way. And as a Zen proverb says:
“If you don’t have time to meditate for an hour every day, you should meditate for two hours.”
At Ignite Yoga, our aim is to impel powerful living. Therefore, we bring up big topics like trauma to help you overcome these obstacles. Trauma isn’t a topic that is easy to talk about, or even think about. It affects the majority of people, although only a small percentage seek help. Denial is real, and it can destroy a person’s mental wellness.
Our hope is that you read this blog and it ignites a spark to take action for yourself or stand-up for a friend or loved one. One little step at a time; re-awaken yourself. Get help. Observe. Address the pain. Heal. One day at a time.
Love you much yogis.