During this past year it’s been all too easy to hide and avoid, ducking our heads from the trauma of the pandemic. The CDC told us this was important to keep us safe. Yes, it has been important to stay safe and healthy. For some of us, finding safety meant staying home and quarantining.
Hiding from the world had a sort of weird calming effect. Maybe you found yourself getting used to the slower pace of life and less social obligations.. I’ve had clients tell me that they liked the low demand of the quarantine lifestyle. Other clients reported that the experience of isolation and loneliness was beyond their tolerance levels.
For those who already have a tendency to hide from the world and avoid others, it’s been an invitation to go even deeper into a trauma response. It was socially sanctioned after all. The world was finally moving at your pace and style. It felt comforting.
Most of us are already familiar with the trauma responses of fight, flight or freeze; however there are a few more that are getting researched. One of these is the response of hide and avoid.
The purpose of a trauma response is to keep us safe and alive. It comes from our primitive brain and it is part of our survival mechanism. It comes with different names… survival response, threat response, and trauma response. It’s all a part of our autonomic nervous system. It has allowed for humans to survive for thousands of years.
So why would someone live life in a hide and avoid style? Why would someone find comfort and safety in the avoidance of others?
Typically, the reason is because there is a history of harm, abuse, or violence that made it impossible to feel safe around other people. The brain quickly linked other people to danger. The survival response was to simply avoid this danger.
Other people = harm, danger, violence, humiliation, shaming. In other words: scary shit.
The internalized beliefs are: People are dangerous. People want to hurt me. I cannot trust others.
Ouch. Living from this place is just so damn painful.
Since trauma lives in the body, not in the event(s), the responses remain long after the original traumatic event(s) are gone. Trauma is experienced as the past being experienced in the present moment.
The people who hurt you are gone, but you’re living as though they’re right around every corner. Your nervous system becomes stuck in your trauma response, in this case hide and avoid, and you cannot get out of it. You are genuinely anticipating being harmed.
You live on high alert around other people. Of course you need to rest afterwards. Resting in isolation. For how long?
Yes, avoiding other people might keep you safe from harm, and this lifestyle also leads to isolation, loneliness, and quite often depression.
When the nervous system is on high alert, social engagement takes a backseat. In fact, there is no room for social engagement when your survival is at stake. First find safety, then socialize.
The accumulation effect of being stuck in the hide and avoid response is that over time the social muscle gets atrophied. Your capacity to engage with other people takes a hit. You might start telling yourself a story that you’re really bad at meeting people. You can start to believe that you’re destined for loneliness.
You might not even notice your low grade depression anymore. You might even notice that the mere thought of re-entry and being around people fills you with stress and anxiety. You can feel your stress hormones being released.
You’re stuck in a see-saw motion. You’re moving from numbness and isolation, which feels safe, all the way to stress and anxiety, which is too overwhelming and sends you running back to avoidance and isolation. Back and forth between these two disparate states. I know how exhausting that is.
The good news is….you don’t have to continue living in this way.
There is hope. You can get off this nightmarish ride.
Trauma therapy can help and it starts with a safe relationship. That is the first need. You need to feel safe with your therapist and trust them. It serves as a building block to regaining yourself and your trust in others. You were not designed to live in isolation and you no longer have to.
If you want to learn more about this powerful work, reach out to me. I would love to provide you with the tools you’re looking for to live a more fulfilling life.