The Last Time I felt That Way
This past week the United States Capital building was besieged. Individuals upset with the 2020 Presidential election stormed the building in an effort to exert their will. They broke through windows and made their way to the chambers of congress. Vice President Mike Pence and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were both grabbed by security and police and whisked away out side doors and through secure tunnels, safely exciting the building.
House members were left to barricade themselves in their chamber. On a national news talk show a few days later, Rep. Ronny Jackson recounted his experience. As the rioters made their way to the doors to the House chamber, he recalled, "In the chamber we barricaded the doors. We took off our ties so that we wouldn't be strangled to death. Projectiles were flying through the glass, pop, pop, pop, and someone shouted SHOTS FIRED, SHOTS FIRED!!! There was banging on the door pushing the furniture we used to barricade the door in. We broke furniture to find a weapon and finally decided to go out the back way through the hallways where the Speaker had exited. The last time I felt that way, I was in Iraq or Afghanistan. It was an insane day."
As a psychotherapist I watched him with great interest as he described the traumatic event in great detail. Even a few days later recounting the event his speech was "pressured" and his breathing was rapid and shallow. Even before the words left his mouth, I knew he was re-experiencing a past traumatic event.
Yes, what happened at the capital was a traumatic event. I was impressed that they resumed later that evening, in the same chambers that had been attacked. I am certain anxiety levels were high, but in reality that action probably helped many of them process the event and help them begin to heal. In Rep.Jackson's case, he experienced something greater, associating the attack on similar experiences from his days in the military. He advised his group to remove their ties, so they wouldn't be strangled. He orchestrated moving furniture in front of the doors, to hold back would be attackers. He started to break up furniture to devise a weapon to ward of intruders if they breached the room. His past experience took over.
Our bodies and mind are masterful. Traumatic events are recorded and recalled in both places to keep us safe in future encounters. This is a protection strategy that is hard wired in us. The challenge comes when we keep re-experiencing past traumatic events as present day threats. This can sabotage relationships and careers, and prevent individuals from thriving.
If you are experiencing similar reactions to present events that take you back to past painful traumas or you have anxious responses like shallow breathing, sweating, heart palpitations, and feeling the need to escape when exposed to certain thoughts or situations, then it might be time to seek the help of a mental health professional who is trained in trauma treatment techniques.
- When is the last time a current event took me back to something unpleasant from my past?
- What triggers these emotions to show up again?
- What action steps have I taken to move forward and have I been successful?
If you have further questions, please email Tammy at firstname.lastname@example.org