The Four Hours That Changed the World:
Remembering the Insurrection
As Americans, there are days that will stand out in our memories forever. Depending on how old you are, those dates may vary in terms of their personal significance. But, there are some events that have taken a foothold in the annals of history and in our hearts, that impacted people, young and old. The day simply known as “9/11” is one such day. It marks the day that in 2001, Islamic terrorist group, Al Qaeda, hijacked four planes and attacked prominent buildings in Washington, DC, NY and VA. The world changed that day. In late August of 2005, a hurricane named “Katrina” touched down in Louisiana. Because of poor engineering of the levees that were supposed to protect the residents of New Orleans, the flooding from the hurricane wreaked havoc on the city, killing over 1800 people and creating more than $125B in damages to homes and businesses. There is no way to quantify the emotional damages that still persist to this day, but suffice it to say that the world changed again that day. We had another glimpse into how “America” treats its Black and brown inhabitants. Fast forward 16 years later, and we have yet another day to remember. We have come to call this day, “The Insurrection.” It happened on 1/6/21 and it, like 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, changed the world. I think, this time though, for reasons that are a little bit different, especially for Black and brown people.
The summer before the Insurrection, George Floyd was murdered. I could do an entire blog about who that is and why his death is significant. And we will at another time. I only bring it up because it, also, marked a time that changed the world. It shook us (the world) up in such a way that America seemed to start to grow a bit of a visible and visceral consciousness about racism, and the great social divide between BIPOC and white people. It is this backdrop that makes the Insurrection event so important. Donald Trump was at the helm of the white house. Having a hard time coming to terms with being unseated by incoming Pres. Joe Biden, he rallied a group of white supremacists to storm the capitol and steal the election. The goal was to force Congress to overturn an election that Trump and his supporters felt had been stolen from them. Let’s really think about that for a moment. It was the first time we saw the world attempting to right the wrongs of the past. It was the first time that we saw a sitting president throw a tantrum about losing an election. And, for many of us, as we watched the news in horror we remembered which America we really live in, we made a declaration that we could not exist here without help. For many of us, the Insurrection felt like a personal attack. It was the last straw in a series of historical events that left us feeling unsafe, distressed and traumatized. For these times, trauma therapy is needed.
I could go further and talk about how some BIPOC people felt especially betrayed by the insurrection event because we understood that if it was us that breached the walls of capitol and stormed the building, there would have been hundreds of casualties and countless senseless arrests. That’s a part of the betrayal. The knowing that there are still two different Americas – theirs and ours. But this blog is about trauma and trauma therapy. So, for now, we’ll stick to the 4 responses to trauma and why trauma therapy is important. Most people have heard of fight or
flight. But today, we’ll discuss those as well as shed a little light on the lesser known fright or fawn. Let’s get into it. Before we get started, though, it should be said that this is just a safe space to start to be educated about trauma responses. Trauma is a layered and complex experience and the emotions and how we handle it (or don’t) are things that can and should be dealt with in trauma therapy. That’s where the work of healing takes place.
Trauma refers to an event or experience wherein our coping mechanisms are overwhelmed. Our coping mechanisms are a way that our bodies organically attempt to get us through a traumatic event to the end of providing a better sense of connection, safety, control and meaning. When these events occur, our bodies have physical, emotional and physiological responses: (1) fight, (2) flight, (3) freeze and, (4) fawn. Fight or flight are the most well-known traum responses and they refer to when the body reacts by fighting back or fleeing a dangerous/threatening situation. Freeze refers to the response wherein a person is unable to move, hence the name. They can neither fight nor flee. Fawning is the reaction to trauma that makes a person go along with whatever is happening in order to keep more harm from happening. It is a kind of neurobiological compliance. Sometimes people are confused about why their bodies reacted in the ways that they did, but all responses make sense in response to getting through the traumatic event. They are all a part of the body’s way of protecting itself. This is why trauma therapy is so important.
While in trauma therapy, you and your trusted person, can explore the ways in which your body works. You can delve deeply into the physiology of trauma responses. What actually happens when we’re hurt or frightened? The emotional responses to trauma are intrinsically tied to the physical responses. When the amygdala, the fear center of the brain that holds the memory and response of our trauma gets activated, it creates a negative interference with the hippocampus. It is the job of the hippocampus to be the keeper of long-term memories. So it stands to reason why sometimes people aren’t able to recall all of the details about an event, or remember it in perfect chronological order.
There’s no wrong way to experience trauma. But there are better ways of fighting to get out of its grips and begin to heal, really heal from it. And doing the work of that healing in trauma therapy may be just what you need. You don’t have to have been physically assaulted to be amongst those counted as surviving trauma. Your experience of hurt, no matter what it is, is valid. Even and especially if you are remembering Jan 6, 2021 and you’re not the right color to fight, you’re not safe anywhere else in the world so you can’t flee, it’s too dangerous to freeze and you can’t stomach the idea of fawning another second. Just existing in today’s America is traumatic for some. And if you find yourself in that number, know first that you’re in good company. And then consider trauma therapy…you don’t have to tackle any of it alone.