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Hiba Khatkhat Smiling Drinking Coffee.

Abandon Your Fear, Not Yourself

Commemoration days, like Juneteenth and National Indigenous Day, are about resilience, empowerment, and celebration. Their cornerstone is reclaiming your power through your cultural identity. Generational and ancestral trauma can make this difficult because one of its results on a personal individual level is to lean away from being yourself and connecting. This experience can be a shared one in underrepresented communities. Generational wounds can show up as fear of rejection, abandonment, and insecurity about oneself. And you may find yourself compensating in various ways such as being what you think other people need you to be.

This week, I invite you to celebrate yourself by practicing showing up in your life from a place of freedom, joy, and self-confidence rather than fear. So you can be yourself anytime, anywhere, with anyone.  

Being What You Think Other People Need You to Be is a Trauma Response

Generational trauma is passed down from one generation to the next through:

  • Behaviours: Trauma patterns getting passed down ancestrally from one generation to the next. 
  • Relationships: Trauma changing the rules of what’s acceptable and tolerated in communities and families (often, toxic patterns are tolerated excessively)
  • Environment: The prenatal environment is your first environment. You’ve had nine months of development and exposure in the womb by the time you are born. Depending on the conditions of this in-utero/prenatal environment, you may be predisposed to developing trauma symptoms  after birth.
  • Epigenetics: Trauma is passed down from one generation to the next through changing the language that’s passed in your DNA. It leaves a chemical mark. Like a computer's software, this chemical mark changes the language used within your DNA, making you more susceptible to developing post-trauma symptoms.  

When you consider all of these factors together, you can start to see why you may react the way you do when exposed to traumatic events or prolonged chronic stress (when a situation lasts a long time/there’s no end to it at that moment).

We Now Understand Trauma Responses in Five Categories

  • Fight: Fighting the threat or danger. Emotionally it shows up as anger, irritability, frustration, anger, and rage.
  • Flight: Trying to escape or avoid danger. This is any reaction you would have to put distance between you and the source of danger or harm, such as hiding or lying. Emotionally it shows up as feeling afraid, hesitant, and unsure.  
  • Freeze: Not doing anything, getting still, silent, shutting down, avoiding being seen or heard. Emotionally, it appears as feeling depressed, low, disconnected, hopeless, helpless, and numb.
  • Flop: This is where you could collapse, faint, or notice your body shut down. Your mind also shuts down by dissociating (going somewhere else in your mind). 
  • Friend/Fawn: This shows up in negotiating, appeasing, or placating the source of danger or threat. It can show up in lying, manipulation (so you can reach safety), and passive-aggressive behaviours. Emotionally, it shows up as people-pleasing, fearing abandonment and rejection, and being overly caring and agreeable.

When you’re stuck in a trauma response, you can find yourself acting in people-pleasing ways. Being what you think other people need you to be. You would be stuck in a ‘Friend’ trauma-mode when you no longer need to be. And it affects your sense of self and your relationships.

When You’re Stuck in the ‘Friend’ Mode

It’s important to remember that these reactions are involuntary and automatic. So being intentional with getting unstuck is really important. It won’t just happen on it’s own.

When you’re stuck, you may consistently compromise your values, beliefs, opinions, preferences. As a result, you don’t get what you want or need. You can start to feel dissatisfied in your relationships and with yourself. In this process, you can find yourself feeling resentful and even angry. There’s a good chance you would also feel exhausted from constantly being focused on other people and pouring into them. Chronic self-blame can start to surface. These outcomes happen because your care for others is happening as a survival reaction. And, it isn’t balanced with caring for yourself. It’s also because you consistently abandon your own needs to serve others out of fear.  

What Can You Do?

Step 1: Self-Regulation and Self-Soothing

Self-regulation and self-soothing practices come in many forms. Their purpose is to help you be present with yourself and your environment. Examples include:

  • Mindfulness and Meditative Practices: These help increase your awareness, attention, memory, and focus. They don’t need to be time-consuming. A few minutes per day can help. 
  • Tension-Release Practices:  Body-based practices such as movement, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation help release the tension locked in your body. If you struggle with this, try the suggestion below. Stuck tension may be a sign that you’re stuck in trauma-mode.
  • Visualizations & Imagery: These techniques help you contain distress, so it doesn’t get in the way of daily living. The purpose here is grounding and containment. It helps you with regulating intense responses such as overwhelming emotions. 

When you’re able to be present in the now, the intensity of your experience decreases. You can tolerate distressing things differently, find wisdom, and navigate your relationships from a place of security, safety, and internal freedom. You get yourself out of fear and friend-mode.

Step 2: Change Your Environment & Co-Regulate

  • Co-Regulation: Co-regulation is your ability to reach out for help & support. When you engage with your social supports and network, neuroception plays a role. It is your central nervous system’s ability to scan your environment for cues of safety and danger. It explains why a child smiles when they see their caring parent’s face. 

When you’re in distress and reach out to a trusted person (e.g. a friend, a trusted elder, your energy healer, or your therapist), neuroception of safety gets activated. Neurobiologically, this helps you calm down. This is one of many factors that play a role in this type of connection. And it happens between species not just humans. For this reason, your pet(s) are great partners to co-regulate with as well. 

Step 3: Start Changing the Rules

You can start to change the rules of your relationships by factoring yourself in. You do so by tuning into your body, getting curious about your emotions, and practicing self-validation. Check out the details here.

Step 4: Treat the Root Cause

Ultimately, treating the root cause of the trauma with a trained professional will give you long-lasting benefits. Treatments such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Processing (EMDR) and similar therapies help you get to the root cause. Once you treat that, you can no longer only cope with your trauma but also thrive from healing it. You can reach out to find out more here.

Your Intention in Practice

Here are a few options you can try:

  • Containment Visualization: This exercise helps you contain your distress, so it doesn’t spill into your day. Containment is not suppressing your experience. The intention here is temporarily shelving it. You can take a moment and focus on what’s upsetting you. It can be memories, thoughts, emotions, or body sensations. Then, pick a container of your choice. It can be anything. In my experience, people have visualized a bank safe, a wooden box, a mason jar, a clear plastic container etc. Visualize yourself putting the distress into the container, close it, then put it away or get rid of it, and walk away.
  • Self-Soothing Exercise: Self-soothing is about comfort and regulation. The core of regulation is to have a wide variety of reactions and not be stuck in a few rigid ones. There are many ways to self-soothe with your senses and with activities. Choose what brings you this type of comfort in a healthy way. Here’s an exercise you can try.

  • Grounding Technique: Engage your senses with the 5-4-3-2-1 technique: Take a few deep breaths and bring your attention to the here and now. Then name:
  • Five things you can see: e.g. the chair, the wall, the colours in your room
  • Four things you can feel/touch: e.g. your feet on the floor, the back of your legs on your seat, your hands on your lap
  • Three things you can hear: the silence, the birds singing, the humming of the fridge, the traffic outside
  • Two things you can smell: e.g. coffee, soap, your perfume, essential oils
  • One thing you can taste: fresh air, breakfast, tea you had
  • Tension-Release Technique: This is one of many techniques that engage the part of your central nervous system that helps with calming. It uses the power of your vagus nerve, which branches out into several systems in your body.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Lie on your back
  • Test the range of motion in your neck: look from side to side.
  • Look ahead /straight
  • Interlace your fingers.
  • Bring them behind your head, right at the base of your skull. 
  • If this is difficult for you, you can place your hands at the base of your skull to support it without interlacing it.
  • Look with your eyes only, not your head or neck, to the right, towards your elbow, until you sigh, swallow, release a breath or yawn. 
  • Once this happens, then repeat on the other side.
  • You can blink during the exercise.
  • Retest your neck movement and see if there was a change or a release

You can pick one of these options and focus on practicing it this week rather than all at once. These take a few minutes at a time, and repeating them can help you calm your mind and body.  

The combination of all of this helps you start to gain perspective as you practice. You can get unstuck from self-blame and chronically thinking you’ve done something wrong. Over time, you learn how to evaluate the situation and your relationships in a balanced way. This process helps you build trust in yourself. The accumulation of this enables you to know where your responsibility in a situation begins and ends. You don’t own the whole situation, and stop carrying that burden. In other words, you show up differently in your relationships, increasing your satisfaction and happiness. 

Take a moment today, and set your intention for the week. Practice a few minutes per day. I recommend starting your day with one of the practical tips regardless of the mood you wake up in so you can set the stage for the rest of your day. 

Connect to let me know (below) how your practice is going and if anything stood out to you from intentional practice this week.

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Hiba Khatkhat

Hiba is a holistic psychotherapist specializing in trauma, couples treatment, and culture. She's passionate about solving mental health crises by practicing prevention. She brings over 18 years of experience working with individuals, couples, & families in her private practice. She is known for her work on the transmission of trauma and its impact on relationships.

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