A couple of years ago I was with a group of women as part of a leadership group for Good Shepherd's Sage Camp. We were working on conflict resolution and the activity for the hour was to work through situations using role playing (we would act out different roles and figure out the best way to handle disagreements). Two of us were asked to get up and act out a scenario whereby one woman was upset because she wanted to borrow something and the other said no, I was to be the one saying no. I was right into this activity, I enthusiastically began acting out my part, as did my friend, in fact she got into her part so much that she decided that her character was going to get really, REALLY angry and she suddenly started shouting about four inches from my face...
Immediately, I had a full blown, no mistaking what was happening, panic attack
I felt like I couldn't breathe. I couldn't seem to catch my breath. My heart raced. I broke out in a sweat. I wanted to run away.
Everyone in the room was horrified, including my poor friend who had stopped shouting when she realized what was happening. I felt like it went on for what seemed like an hour but I'm sure was only a few minutes.
Who do I blame? The staff for putting me in that position with the activity? No. (although I definitely had to work through my feelings about what happened). Do I blame my friend? No. She wasn't trying to be abusive, she was acting out anger in a way that made sense to her, probably drawing on her own experiences to do so.
The reality of it is this: I have trauma related to getting yelled at. My body remembered it and reacted the same way that it did when my abusive partner yelled at me. My brain perceived a threat and I reacted accordingly. I couldn't help it at the time because my brain didn't recognize the difference between what happened before (in the past) and what was happening now. This is called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
I'm going to assume that some of you reading this have experienced similar things. So what can we do? If we can't control what happens around us how can we ever hope to prevent this happening again?
We can get trauma therapy that helps our brains to process these memories so that they get stored in a way that doesn't produce the same reactions that we used to have in the past.
I am just starting to learn about all of this and like some of you I am about to start NET (Narrative Exposure Therapy) to help me overcome these past traumas. 1inFour has partnered with St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, Ontario to begin a pilot project of delivering this type of therapy for women and children with lived experience of Intimate Partner Violence and it is called NETworks for Moms.
Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions and would like to know more, this is exciting work and I for one am looking forward to seeing what a trauma-impact free future holds for me and my children.