What you appreciate, appreciates.
When we experience chronic stress or trauma one of the things that happens in our body is that we orient toward what might be dangerous. This makes so much sense in the heat of the moment. However, we are not meant to stay stuck here…and yet we often do.
At times it can be very tricky to talk about what’s going well. For those who have gone through extensive hardship it can feel dismissive to have others try to get us to focus on the silver lining. It can feel like the people in our lives don’t have space for us or can’t handle the truth. It can feel like our experiences are being minimized and our pain bypassed. The net effect of this is that we can feel even more alone and fall deeper into distress.
And, one of the things I’ve learned as a trauma therapist is how crucial it is for us to start orienting toward that which is good in our lives.
Orienting toward the good helps us:
1. Expand Reality
Stress and trauma is inherently part of being alive. At the same time, so is living, loving, and thriving.
Paying attention to potential danger is crucial to survival. However, once we are safe, our psyches and bodies need to have a chance to register that safety as real. If we are safe, but not orienting to safety we may keep ourselves in the stress response cycle. In a way this can keep us stuck in the past as well.
So, when we intentionally orient to the good we implicitly acknowledge that there is a bigger picture here. This asserts that reality includes pleasant experiences and painful experiences. Not just painful experiences.
Perceiving real safety in the present moment helps us navigate life with more clarity and sets us up well to do some solid healing work too.
2. Interrupt the Stress Response Cycle
Now, unless you are actively navigating some stress or trauma, having the stress response system on overdrive is not helpful. In fact, we need to interrupt it.
Orienting toward the good may take effort at first, but can it can help us bring pleasant feelings and sensations online in the body. Experiencing this kind of relief gives our nervous systems a micro break from the activation of the stress response cycle.
Interrupting the stress response cycle helps us slow down and see other options in the present. Don’t we all need more options?
Doing this repeatedly can actually help us lay down new neural pathways and break outdated patterns. Especially when the stress response cycle is online when we don’t actually need it to be.
3. Identify Resources
When we are trying to avoid danger, danger is super present in our mind. Makes sense. But this doesn’t always help us know where to go or how to get more of what would be good in life.
Turning our attention to what feels calm, grounded or neutral can help us identify tangible resources in our lives. Having a clear idea of what tools are available to us becomes something we can then use deliberately.
Knowing what you can use, when to feel better is so EMPOWERING.
4. Cultivate Discernment & Resiliency
Often, the more we orient to the good, the better we feel. The better we feel, the easier it is to see when something doesn’t feel good.
Knowing what does not feel good, gives us clarity and assurance in our choices that keep us safe and stress at bay. Feeling confident in our needs and choices helps us feel more empowered. Feeling empowered and able to take action to protect ourselves cultivates resilience.
This is how noticing the good becomes deep prevention work. We need to be able to orient to danger as needed and safety when we are in the clear. Honestly acknowledging danger as needed and safety when present allows both systems to serve us as nature intended.
There are lots of ways one could orient toward the good. In my next newsletter I will be addressing how you can apply these concepts in your life. If you’d like some ideas or if you have a specific question about how to expand this ability, use the form here and stay tuned to your email.