Today we’re going to discuss the first ingredient in PTSD, which is your survival reflex.
What I’d like to focus on first is telling you a bit about how reflex works. It’ll be easier to do this with an example… Have you ever accidentally put your hand on a hot surface? If you have, did you notice how, by the time you realized what had happened, you had already yanked your hand off?
This is a great illustration of how reflex works differently than your normal, conscious thought:
Conscious thought is all the stuff that goes through your head, that you’re actually aware of. This includes making decisions, figuring stuff out, noticing things around you – every thought that you actually realize you’re having.
Reflex on the other hand, is sort of like the autopilot; it’s the stuff that the brain does behind the scenes, without your awareness.
To go back to the example of accidentally putting your hand on a hot surface – before your “manual” (conscious) thought has a chance to catch up and realize that you’re burning yourself, your “autopilot” (reflex) is already reacting quickly to yank your hand out of harm’s way. You don’t choose to move your hand – reflex leads you to get it off the stove before you’re even consciously aware of what’s going on. Reflex works much faster than conscious thought; it’s done by a different part of your brain.
The foundation of PTSD is reflex – you do not choose to have reflex (it’s hard-wired into every animal); you do not control when to activate reflex (it just kicks in when it thinks it should).
That last bit – that bit about reflex being outside of your control – get used to hearing that bit. I will go on about that a lot. It’s important.
A lot of suffering comes from people blaming themselves for getting PTSD, and from feeling like it is somehow a weakness, a failure, a character flaw. It’s not something you can actually control, so it’s kinda like beating yourself up because your toenails grew since you clipped them last week. Goofy, right?
PTSD is kind of like a reflex on steroids: you can learn to understand it and manage it, but blaming yourself for it is worse than useless – it’s how you keep yourself stuck feeling awful…
I’d love to have you share your thoughts, comments, and questions. If you do post a comment, please don’t give specific details of your trauma – these may be triggering to another reader. If you’d like to offer criticism, I’ll take it – I know I’m not perfect, and I’m always willing to learn. If you do offer criticism though, I’d really appreciate it if you could do so constructively (ie., no name-calling, please). Thanks…
~ Dr. Dee Rajska, C. Psych.
*Fine print: Please feel free to share the link to this blog wherever you think it might be helpful! Reading this blog is a good start, but it’s no substitute for professional help. It takes a different kind of courage to admit to yourself that you’re struggling. PTSD is not a sign of failure – it’s a sign that you’ve been through a lot, and have tried to stay strong for too long. If you need help – you’re in some pretty great company. Reach out, and give yourself a chance to feel better.
**Really fine print: The content of Coming Back Home is copyrighted; please feel free to share the link, but do not copy and paste content. Unless otherwise noted, all original photography on Coming Back Home is the copyrighted property of Larry M. Jaipaul; please do not copy images without permission.