Today I want to talk about dysregulation, how it impacts your Stress Response System and trauma. Many times we often think of trauma as this terrible event that has happened to us, a person violating another person or a frightening car accident. When you hear trauma you think of something on a grand scale. But trauma is not just an event. Trauma encompasses the event (adverse experience), the meaning you make about yourself and the world as a result of the event, and other responses/reactions that occur on a neurobiological, emotional, and physical level.
Dysregulation and The Activation Of The Stress Response System
The Stress Response System is an automatic mechanism that gets deployed in the face of threat. Every moment of every day your body is trying to remain in a state of equilibrium. Part of this involves assessing for safety and threat at every moment of every day. This does not occur on a conscious level, because of you paid attention to every piece of stimulation you would quickly become overwhelmed. Instead there needs to be sufficient stimulation to shift our focus to that stimuli.
Dysregulation is a combination of your body feeling unbalanced (out of equilibrium) and your Stress Response System kicking in. This can be caused by numerous things, whether it’s a car accident or loss of a job. I also want to add that what one person may sense as a sense of threat another person may not. It’s all subjective and based on our past histories. The way the circuitry in our individual brains have been configured.
I often talk about the brain developing in a use dependent fashion. Meaning what ever you use repeatedly and consistently tends to stick while other parts that you don’t use or use infrequently are not as strong. With focused attention you can make those parts stronger or more developed, it just takes conscious effort. More important there are some actions that will override the others. So for example if you have a history of childhood abuse then your Stress Response System is deployed anytime that abusive situation occurs. Your body assess the best way to protect you and automatically deploys certain actions (Fight, Flight, or Freeze). When this happens repeatedly your brain becomes more sensitized to stimuli which signals an ongoing threat. This occurs from a mix of what’s happening outside of your body (the external world) as well as inside your body (thoughts, feelings and beliefs). The Stress Response System is powerful and often overrides other functions in on your brain, most notably those in the prefrontal cortex.
So when you think about dysregulation think about your Stress Response System deploying in response to an overwhelming threat to you. Your sense of self or physical violation of your body. The threat can be emotional, physical, mental, sexual, or a combination of the above. Again our experience of trauma and what we determine to be traumatic to us, may not be so for another person, who may have had a similar experience. Remember that your experiences matter. The meaning you make from those experiences matter more.
Have You Experienced Trauma?
If you feel like you have experienced a trauma you have. One of the things that breaks my heart as a therapist is when clients come to me talking about their past and they minimize their traumatic experiences because “others have it worse”. Just because others have a different experience than you doesn’t negative your own experiences, how they made you and make you feel. It’s all connected and it all matters.
One of the amazing things about healing from trauma is that it allows you to move from a place where you feel like you have no control or that you are a victim to a space of feeling empowered. The fact that you survived and your body did what it needed to do to keep you alive is amazing. The survival adaptations that you were forced to deploy kept you alive and brought you to where you are now. This is a strength, believe it or not. Sometimes you’re negative patterns, based on these survival adaptations, get you into trouble or make you feel less than. This is normal. But as you been to dive deep and unpack it all, you will learn how to make more informed and intentional choices to live your best life.