A friend and I have a long-running PTSD discussion going. This week, we hit on the topic of instinct and inner voice. She’s working hard to trust her instincts again, and to develop her inner voice. These were major topics for me, too. After my trauma I didn’t trust my instincts at all, and my inner voice….. what inner voice?? All I ever heard inside was, I'm so afraid, I'm so afraid, I'm so afraid!
I think with trauma we're so stunned that we automatically revert to a sort of autopilot. We no longer trust our perceptions of the world and ourselves, and so we trust someone else's above our own because we are looking for something to believe in.
I think also the inner voice, in its reaction to shock, hibernates and so we lose that part of ourselves. It takes deliberate choice and focus to coax it back and to regain the trust we should and deserve to have in our own selves. We are not responsible for the traumas or PTSD we experience. However, we are responsible for healing the effects. Not that this is simple, but it can be done.
For example, in order to begin establishing a trust of my instincts I had to practice deferring to them. I did this in silly, non-threatening ways. I started like this: I used to walk to work every day, from the Upper West Side of Manhattan down to the Fashion Institute of Technology where I taught, which was in the garment district; about a 30 minute walk. Instead of analyzing the route, deciding which was the most efficient, most calculated, controlled path to get from one door to the next, I gave up control. I left my apartment building and allowed my feet (aka, my instincts) to decide. Instead of reigning myself in I allowed myself the freedom to move forward by impulse, that ‘instinctual urge’ that wanted to go left or right.
A ridiculous exercise, yes? Silly and elementary for sure. But it has the advantage of being a simple way to retrain the brain. It was an easy way to develop a new habit, which was the suspension of thought and a deference to feeling.
Which way did I feel like going? Down Broadway, or West End Avenue? Over on 57th Street, or on 42nd? Through Times Square, or around it? For those 30 minutes every day I suspended my thinking self and allowed another self (a self outside my fears and need to control every minute and everything) to take… well… control. This was very liberating. It didn’t take long for this daily practice to begin creeping into other situations as well until there were several times a day I would feel the urge toward an instinct and then follow it.
In the beginning, these were all in the area of inconsequential things. But the more comfortable I became with my instincts - and the act of trusting them - the more often they arose; I experimented with trusting them in new ways; was rewarded; found myself developing new coping skills, ones that did not harm me with exaggerated and distorted behavior but instead supported me and made me feel calmer because I began to see that in all the crazy world I could, at least, trust myself. This was a huge progress milestone.
We all own an inner wisdom. PTSD healing includes more than just getting rid of symptoms. It includes reopening the functioning flow of a dialogue with an inner self. It includes rediscovering who we are behind, beneath, beyond trauma and PTSD.
Your assignment for today (should you choose to accept it!): Find one instance, one situation, in which you defer to your instincts. Pause. Become aware of your internal urge. Act on it.
Begin today to develop your instincts and then, your deep trust in them.
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