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The Unseen Side of Trauma: What Didn't Happen Matters Too

When we talk about trauma, we often think about significant, life-altering events that have happened to us. However, in many cases, trauma can also stem from what didn't happen; it's about the absence of a response that could have helped us feel safe and regulated.



Let's illustrate this concept with a common example from childhood: the first time a child is left at a nursery or kindergarten. This can be an overwhelming experience for many children, as it might be the first time they're left with unknown people, away from their parents.

In this situation, the child's nervous system can be triggered into a 'fight or flight' response, a state of heightened arousal and anxiety that Dr. Stephen Porges refers to as the 'yellow zone'. This natural response can cause a myriad of emotions in the child, including fear and anxiety.


Ideally, an adult in the situation, like a teacher or caretaker, would step in to co-regulate the child's emotions. They would use their own calm demeanor, soothing words, and comforting body language to help the child return to a state of safety, a 'green zone'. This co-regulation helps the child feel grounded and safe, transforming a potentially traumatic experience into a manageable one.


But what happens when that co-regulating presence isn't there? The child may remain in the 'yellow zone', their nervous system constantly activated. If this state persists, their body may push them into a 'red zone', a state of dorsal vagal collapse where the body shuts down, disconnects, and suppresses the overwhelming emotions.


This is where the unseen side of trauma comes into play. It's not about what happened – being left at nursery – but about what didn't happen: the lack of co-regulation to help the child feel safe again. Many adults carry this type of trauma with them. They may have experiences that trigger their nervous system, making them feel super activated, but without the necessary self-regulation skills or a co-regulating presence, they remain stuck in a state of high arousal. This can lead to feelings of helplessness and overwhelm, as well as a host of trauma and anxiety symptoms.


This is why co-regulation is so important. Whether it's a helping professional, a family member, or a friend, having someone who can help us regulate our nervous system can be crucial. They can teach us how to move from a state of activation to one of calm and connection, showing us that it's possible to feel grounded and safe again.


Understanding the unseen side of trauma allows us to broaden our perspective, recognizing that trauma is not only about the bad things that happen to us, but also about the good things that should have happened, but didn't. This knowledge can deepen our empathy for ourselves and others, fostering healing and growth.


If you are curious about taking both a body and mind approach to your anxiety, particularly if you experience intrusive physical anxiety symptoms, you might consider reaching out so I can guide you and teach you how to finally TRUST your body to get you out of your anxiety and panic for good. Click this link to book a free consultation call with me. 

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