You are not codependent.
Your nervous system is in habitual fawn stress response.
Maybe your parents or caregivers were scary, too busy or not skilled enough relationally to be attuned to you.
We might operate in perpetual stress response or variations of it (if we are not fawning or people pleasing, we might be stuck in fight or flight responses, freeze or collapse), never really arriving into comfortable and safe connection.
However, experiencing stress response is not always indicative of having unresolved childhood trauma!
It’s a common misconception that only if we were fully healed, we’d never get triggered or activated.
It’s not even remotely true.
Human beings have nervous systems that respond to threat and stimuli.
It’s literally our nervous system’s job.
Rather than experiencing our nervous system reactions as negative feedback on completion of our healing process or just how advanced and evolved we are, we can reframe them as information.
We receive 80% of information about outside world through our bodies. If some part of us detect threat, our nervous system reacts with a degree of activation.
Lots of things are at play here. If we are sick, lonely or tired, we might react to something in a different way than when we are in our power, our needs are met and we are feeling connected and supported.
Knowing ourselves is such a key in this process.
Threats are not imagined either. Our nervous system can go on alert when we encounter a person who’s untrustworthy, lacking empathy, violent or dangerous.
We might catch ourselves trying to get this person to like us and notice we are going out of our way to please them. Or we might become aware we are unable to stay present, we are checking out and growing numb – our system responding with freeze. Or we might just suddenly feel like we need to get out of there. Or feel unusually aggravated and antagonistic.
Truth is sometimes how our nervous system responds is not at all about our past traumas. It could very well be about the person we are interacting with.
Research shows when therapists are working with pathological individuals, they experience stress response.
We encounter humans with various degrees of entitlement, lack of empathy, propensity towards cruelty a lot more than we might realize, as all we see is a charming well put together intelligent person, however our nervous systems can’t be fooled by superficial charm.
We’d do very well to listen to our bodies and rather than dismiss and invalidate these feelings and sensations, or worse, dub ourselves irrational or silly, we could take in that information and become more present and aware instead.
We could often save ourselves so much trouble, time, energy and money.
We could stay out of the job that is not right for us, say no thank you to a financial opportunity or a date and save our peace, and turn toward places, people and paths that are so much more supportive of out growth and thriving.
Of course, it’s not only paying attention to our reactions and self-knowledge that is helpful. It’s one important piece.
Knowing and recognizing toxic behaviors such as gaslighting, invalidation, future faking, triangulation, dismissing, among some – can give us another piece, a framework to recognize what it is our nervous system is reacting to. It can help us locate the threat. Once we know where the threat is coming from, we can deal with it, address it, or even better simply not engage.
We don’t need to out every difficult person. We can however better watch out for ourselves and steward ourselves towards our goals and desires while avoiding danger.
If we have had our share of difficult childhood experiences and/or adult traumas, it becomes so much more important.
We are pushed to get through life and relational challenges, and often we don’t take time to process what happened. Worse yet, we blame ourselves and with some help from society and healing world we decide we attracted these experiences and commit to keep our mindset right, take better care of ourselves, etc.
We might even take a deep dive into our past traumas and receive some support around it.
Until we find ourselves in a similar situation all over again.
Truth is it’s not always us. Learning to recognize folk that’s bad news can be quite a skill, yet it’s a very key one.
Some would say “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.”
Others would suggest some people have broken “picker” or blind spots when it comes to people and situations.
I say learning about toxic behaviors and “tells” is just a skill to develop like any other.
If you would like some support around that, reach out. It’s one of things I’m very passionate about in my 1:1 coaching practice. I’d love to help you navigate this terrain and grow confident you are not in fact your enemy. You’ve just been given false information and been making yourself wrong or broken, when nothing can be further from the truth. I’ll help you become your own best friend again and know in your deepest of heart that you always always have your own back.
Photo by Alexander Krivitsky