Why did I think that? Then I realized I’ve had this thought before. Is it a sad commentary on our society, or just a reflection of my own fears? I want to believe it’s the first, but I’m not entirely convinced.
I was in the parking lot of the post office to mail some love to my g’babies. I live in a small town, like, really small. It’s an outlier of Kansas City, but it’s a small town. I’ve never felt unsafe here, sometimes leaving my car unlocked when I go to the store, I walk alone at the lake and wouldn’t hesitate to talk to a stranger. I got out of the car and saw my phone on the console. Here’s where it gets sad. I reached for my phone, but this is the thought I had: “I should take my phone so if anyone starts shooting I can call for help.” That was sad, but it gets worse. I stopped and noticed how I felt about that thought (because I’m a therapist). I didn’t feel weird, or aghast or crazy to have that thought. It seemed like a perfectly rational, practical, even prudent thought to have. That is what made me sad.
I sat back down in the car to reflect for a minute (because I’m a therapist). Was this because of the latest mass shooting? *reflecting…* Nope. How do I know that? *reflecting…* I’ve had this thought before. Many times actually. Going into the doctor’s office, the market, Target, my work even. *reflecting…” This has become a default thought in my subconscious that I wasn’t aware of. *reflecting…* Do I want to hold on to this thought, or challenge it? Hmmm….
My heart breaks that I live in a culture where needing help in a crisis is shaping my behavior. Have crisis situations become so common place that we are all walking around on alert without realizing it? I teach my clients a concept called Wise Mind. It’s a balance of logic and emotion to find the sweet spot in the middle called Wise Mind. So I look at my statement, “I should take my phone so if anyone starts shooting I can call for help.” That sounds logical (sad), but it’s really based in emotion. To get to Wise Mind I need to apply some logic to balance my emotion. How likely is it from 1-100 that someone is going to shoot up the post office when I go in? Probably…a 5? Maybe a 1? Ok. Is there a history of shootings in my town? No. Of all the people I know, have any of them ever been involved in a mass shooting? No. Have I ever been in a mass shooting? No. Have I ever been in a crisis situation that I needed my phone to get help? Yes. BINGO.
My emotion based statement is about my experience. My trauma. My brain connected what the media showed me (others’ trauma) to my own trauma and declared it perfectly normal. Our brains like order. They like connections and making sense of sensory input. This is why you can see a bunny in the clouds. Your brain sees a shapeless cloud, goes through it’s file cabinet to find something to make sense of it, and POOF! out comes a bunny. You see a shadow in the dark, your brain decides it looks like the shadow of man, you freeze with fear, then looking closer, you realize it’s your bathrobe hanging on the back of the door.
Have you ever known anyone that lived close to a train, but it doesn’t wake them up? Their brain stopped noticing the sound because it realized it poses no danger in that context. If I’m at an amusement park and I hear screaming, my brain tells me that I’ve heard that sound in that context before and it is safe. If I’m at my office and I hear screaming, my brain tells me that is a new sound in that environment and something is wrong. This is why every sound wakes you when you try and sleep in a new place. Your brain doesn’t know yet what sounds are safe and what sounds are not.
With trauma, your brain has decided that certain things associated with your trauma are unsafe. This could be a variety of sensory input. A certain smell, or sound. The way a person talks or looks. Even something that seems random, like striped wallpaper or the feel of velvet. Our brain makes connections. These connections can serve us well in times of trauma, but when we are safe, these connections are no longer helpful to us and can actually hinder us from living our best life. Trauma work helps identify those connections (triggers), so that you can retrain your brain to think of that input in a safe context.
I think I have to conclude that my own experience shaped my statement more than my culture. I escaped the post office unharmed. I’m challenging my default thinking by intentionally leaving my phone in the car sometimes. What default thoughts do you have? I’d love to hear from you. If you have trauma in your past, which affects your present, I encourage you to find a professional to help retrain your brain and challenge your default thinking.
Be kind, be grateful, be courageous,