Growing Up the USA: From Reactive to Responsive

Being reactive and screaming might feel cathartic in the moment, but sustainable change is born out of centered responsiveness.

Inde-WHAT-ence Day? It’s interesting to me that we are about to celebrate another “Independence Day,” right on the heels of a Supreme Court decision that goes against the will of more than halfof the populace. I confess that I was surprised that so many people were surprised by the ruling.

I read some familiar comments about this not really being who we are as a country. I believe it is an apt demonstration of exactly who we are: A nation that was birthed in the aftermath of more than 300 years of brutal invasions by people from Spain, Portugal and Britain who felt entitled to set and reinforce rules that afforded them positions of privilege at tremendous cost to anyone who opposed them. We have since spent at least 246 years honing and perfecting that exact same power dynamic.

Evidence of Trauma Our government, founding documents and laws were created as a caste system that is able to robustly maintain its imposed hierarchy. The means of delivery flexibly changes with the moment: Racism, exploitive economics, the prison-for-profit, educational elitism, voting rights, gerrymandering, red lining, access to healthcare, autonomy in making healthcare decisions, access to food, pathways to citizenship, and so on. We so exhaust ourselves trying to triage and heal these issues that we most often don’t even see that these are the outgrowth of the rooted, power-hungry caste system; Not the plant itself.

In my traumatology work, I’ve seen many times that one of the more elusive effects of trauma on young people is that they learn to adapt to systems in order to stay at least minimally connected to something. Not being connected to anything or anyone literally impairs brain function and survival. (You can read morehere.)

Moreover, traumatized children learn that when they try to speak out against the thing that is harming them, they are shamed and further harmed. They are literally “dependent” in that system; Compliance is necessary for survival. As adults, it can become difficult for those victimized by early trauma to notice when they have complied with something toxic, not seeing that there was an option.

Patriotism And here we are as a Nation, doing exactly that. Horrible, threatening and lethal things happen. We go into a Sympathetic Nervous System dominant fear-state turning our logical neocortex’s off in favor of perceived survival. We react to the toxic weed that’s trying to kill us, instead of responding to the real root that grew said noxious weed. We might sometimes rip up the plant or at least contain it, but more poisonous plants will keep growing up out of that same root.

If we protest, we are often called unpatriotic. (This is bizarrely ironic considering that the United States of America was established in protest to British rule, and has provisions for legal protest, but ok.) If we say that we are not whipped up about celebrating freedoms that are only offered to those in the higher castes, we are told we are seeing things! There is no caste system! These opportunities exist for all! It’s in the Constitution! Those who haven’t achieved the fabled “American Dream” just haven’t worked hard enough for it! It couldn’t possibly be that the system is designed to be an un-level playing field that blocks the path for anyone in the lower castes.

I’ll take “gaslighting” for 500, Alex. (If you want some clearly laid out evidence of what I’m referring to, please read or listen to Caste, by Isabel Wilkerson.)

Healing From Trauma The stated ideals of the United States are quite lovely. They speak to the dignity and worth of each human being. They promote the idea of “freedom” from tyrannical rule where the common person has no voice. They speak to empowerment, the ability to achieve and to live a life unfettered by oppression. However, all of these lofty ideals are baked into our national “cake” that is structured by a system that offers the attainment of such ideals only at the yes or no of those who hold power. If the traumatized speak up against their perpetrator they are shamed, retraumatized and often penalized in ways that make attainment of those ideals even more out of reach.

Inlast week’s blog, I mentioned the need for us to grow up as a nation. In order to do so, we are going to have to heal from our national trauma.

The WorkTrauma work requires us to learn to self-regulate, (get off of our last nerves,) in order to disconnect the trauma body reaction from the trauma narrative. The trauma body reaction thinks it’s preventing a repetition of a prior trauma, but it really isn’t. We think better and make better decisions when we are centered and calm. We are then free to be effectively responsive, instead of chaotically reactive.

We are then free to be effectively responsive, instead of chaotically reactive.”

Those who have done trauma healing work know it requires a great deal of emotional courage. It pushes us to trust that we can review the narrative of trauma again, (this time without unhelpful body reactions,) and reconsider survival strategies that, at one time, kept us alive. It can be hard to accept that there might be a better way. Frankly, it can feel like you’re dying.

A Way Forward In order to heal the country, we need to start with ourselves. We have to train our eyes to see the things we have previously looked right through. I’m forever encouraging clients to take a good hard look at their “shoulds, have to’s and musts,” and instead make conscious choices about what they do and don’t do.

We can’t be afraid to rationally consider any and all options. If a bad idea truly is a bad idea, it will still be a bad idea after it’s been scrutinized and we won’t do it. However, the process of consideration might very well lead us to options we hadn’t had internal permission to consider before. They might just be worth trying.

What Gets In YOUR Way? What are the hot button issues that push you to be reactive, rather than responsive? What things leave you justifying your reactivity because THIS IS REALLY REALLY TERRIBLE!!?? I challenge you to notice when you’re being reactive and recognize that you are very likely getting in the way of your own ability to co-create needed change.

Stopping to breathe, getting off of your last nerve and thinking strategically is more important when things are “really really terrible,” not less. If you cultivate using your wise mind in this way when things are less intense, when things are more intense, you can find that neural pathway sooner. This will leave you and others suffering less and also open up countless options that were previously being squeezed out by your survival brain.

You owe it to yourself, and, you could also help a whole lot of other people this way. Sounds better than panic and despair, doesn’t it?


Want help moving from reaction to response?Contact Tiffany today.

Let’s make a plan.