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Advice Column: Supporting a Friend or Partner in a “Freak Out” moment.

June 17th, 2014     by Sarah Mangle     Comments

You can view the video here on this page or on YouTube. A transcription is below the embedded video. Feedback is welcomed! - ed

My name is Sarah Mangle and I’m doing a Shameless blog for you today and its June, early June. It’s spring. Last time I talked to you I was really cold and it was winter. And now it’s spring! So that’s really nice and today I’m going to talk to you about a bit of a serious topic but I think it’s a relief to talk about in certain ways. I’m going to talk about some things you might do if your friend or partner is experiencing a moment of acute crisis or “freak out.” That can look like a lot of different things. Some of the things I’m thinking about when I use those words are hyperventilating, checking out, spacing out, barfing, having other kinds of trouble breathing, dissociating, and feelings of shock or crying a lot. I am equating those things with either immediately hearing extremely bad news, coming to terms with extremely bad news, having a triggering moment or a traumatic moment, a returning to a flashback or memory.

There are other kinds of acute crisis, and “freak out” and there are other reasons for them. I’m especially thinking in my video blog about moments of returning to a traumatic memory or feeling. Often when people think about triggers one thing that’s suggested often is that we should avoid triggers and that if we don’t avoid them or if somebody triggers us then they’re either being not careful enough or something terrible is going to happen or we should avoid them at all costs. And I feel like while we shouldn’t be triggered all the time, often there’s a healing process involved in moving through difficult memories and difficult feelings at different moments and that kind of idea also connects to an idea of embodied trauma - the idea that our heads and our bodies, our minds and our bodies, are not separate things and that we store difficult feelings and memories in the tissue of our body. And that idea comes from somatics. And I was just doing a little bit of research before I did this video blog for you today, and I want to just show you the three different books that I’ve been looking at. So one of them is this book: The Survivors Guide to Sex and it’s by Staci Haines. And Staci just gives a brief description of somatics that I want to read to you today. So this is page 15. She says, “You are not separate from your body; rather, your self is revealed in and through your body all the time.” And a little bit further down the page:

“Many possibilities come from looking at the body this way. Instead of seeing the body as a carcass that we carry around, the body becomes an alive and intelligent presence. The body is not something to get away from but a source of wholeness to be returned to and embodied fully. In working with and through the body, trauma can be processed and completed, and pleasure, balance and present time can be restored. In somatics the body becomes an inherent and essential part of the change and healing process.”

The other thing that I forgot to in my intro is just that our sense of time becomes really different in moments of flashback or trauma. People can feel caught in a moment and unable to come out of it or needing to pause to return to that moment. Even when that moment is just a feeling. It’s not always an acute flashback of a specific moment. It can just be a returning feeling or returning idea.

And so, what you can do if somebody close to you is having one of these moments is, number one, is to remain solid and present with them. This is not a moment to ask them a hundred questions, or to give all the power of the situation to your person. This is really a moment to provide an architecture of safety for your friend. Offering a glass of water is a great thing to do, and also narrating what you’re going to do. Not narrating what you’re seeing the other person doing, but narrating what you’re going to do: “I’m going to sit here beside you.” “I’m going to breathe next to you.” “I’m going to open the window to get some air.” “ I’m going to sit with you here as long as you need me to sit here.” Just things like this to announce what you’re doing and sometimes that verbal announcement can also interrupt a feeling that a person is trapped inside their own head. So those are some things that I would suggest.

It’s rare, I think, although I’m sure it does happen, that someone, before they’re freaking out, is going to be able to articulate to you specifically, “I’m freaking out.” And so what you need to do really, it’s a body language experience. You can’t just listen to verbal cues. You need to also pay attention to people’s body language in a huge huge way. Act out of love, firmness and intuition. Trust your intuition, and also, the other piece is also that the practise of care is a practise. It’s a skill that we’re building. And so, a couple days later, or even later that day, get some feedback from your friend about whether or not they felt supported, and how they felt supported, and really try not to take their feedback as a failure or a success, but more as like, if you were, if you fed your friend a new recipe of food, and you were trying to find out how you could improve it. Don’t take it personally because care is an active process of, yeah, it’s a practise. And then the other thing, oh my goodness, my dog is, he’s dreaming in his sleep right now. You want to see him? He’s barking in his sleep. Okay. Now he’s done, oh, maybe not.

The last thing I want to say is just that you are building trust in these moments. When difficult feelings come up, when people are cycling through triggers or trauma, often in romantic or sexual situations, that also means that their defenses are down, and often it means that they’re building trust. It’s a trusting, healing, journey you’re on. So, it’s not necessarily a negative thing if your partner or friend is receiving flashbacks. It means that they’re moving through that stuff and they’re on a healing journey.

So that’s all I’d like to say to you today. I also know that things I’ve said, every specific person is going to have a different relationship to this stuff, so some of the stuff I may say will definitely not be true for everybody. But it’s important work and it’s important that we show up for each other doing this work and it’s also exciting. It’s exciting work to do.

All right. Have a great day. Bye.

Tags: advice

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