After a threat of danger happens, like the recent mass shooting at the opening of Dark Knight in Aurora, it is difficult to return to feeling safe. Even though the event is over and passed, you are psychologically continuing to experience life as if the threat is still there. You may have difficulty sleeping, be easily startled, feel like something bad is going to happen, and have bouts of aggressive impulses or angry outbursts. Your survival instincts are on high alert to protect you.
It is important to let out whatever is stirred up inside of you through talking about it with people who care about you, whether family, friends, clergy or a therapist. This allows you to work through the feelings, grasp the reality of the situation that occurred, and to ground yourself in the reality that incidences like this are very rare.
If you have experienced past trauma, like abuse or war experiences, that you have not worked through, you may either find yourself numb to new threats or highly activated with nightmares and flashbacks. Essentially what is happening is that it is as if there is a younger part of yourself living inside of you in a state of terror.
When a new threat happens, that terrified part can not help but to be reminded of what it was like when your livelihood was really in danger. You experience that original state of terror in the present moment, even though it may be out of proportion to an expected response to the current situation. And, you may be so defended against feeling this state, that your survival mechanisms cause you to numb all parts of yourself.
Our survival mechanisms are very powerful! They are there for a reason. They help us get through environments where our safety is at serious risk. The challenge is that we don’t live in an environment where we are served well by living in a survival state. That is why it is so important to recognize the importance of facing the feelings stirred up when threats do happen. If you’ve been living in survival state – you can, with help, work through the terrified states from the past and live a more fulfilling life.