In the last blog, I talked about how trauma affects social interactions for autistic individuals by focusing on the work of the amgydala. In this blog, we’re going to talk a little bit more broadly about cultivating connection while still dealing with the impact of the trauma in our lives. When something traumatic happens, for many of us it just doesn’t “get better”. Trauma, by nature, is deeply distressing or disturbing, and this means it’s going to stick with us. It activates the “fight or flight” part of our brain. This the amygdala, and it also harbors our instincts and our memories.
When the amygdala remembers the things that happened to us, then it will be on guard, warning us about future events which may cause trauma or make it worse. This is going to make us hesitant about doing these things again.If our relationship to others has caused trauma, then it's our amygdala which will warn us away from seeking connection in the future. Click To Tweet
We now have a self-fulfilling prophecy going on in our minds. First, our amygdala is busy searching for and processing threats to warn us. This leaves autistic individuals, especially, less bandwidth to read social cues and make meaningful connections. Next, our amygdala tells us not to get close to people at all, because they hurt us. And so we don’t get close to people and we feel lonely, left out, and isolated. The solution? To get close to people, except this starts the entire cycle all over again.
All of this directly impacts the social and mental parts of the wellness wheel. Our mental health suffers because we’re stuck in this loop. Our social health suffers because we refuse to get close to people.
The antidote isn’t to get close to everyone. That’s not advisable either. And for individuals who are marginalized (especially multiply marginalized individuals), then getting close to just anyone isn’t going to be safe either.The true answer lies in being aware of how our trauma impacts our connections (both existing and making new ones) AND to find and cultivate radically safe spaces. Neither option is easy. Click To Tweet
To be aware of how our trauma impacts our connections means being aware of the past without letting it dictate the future. In other words, if you are meeting someone new, you need to judge their behavior on its own merits, keeping in mind what you experienced in the past so you can recognize red flags, but also not putting red flags out there that don’t exist. It’s a dance, of sorts, and it means being mindful of your thoughts, being the observer as much as the interpreter.
Radically safe spaces are hard to find. While some have found great community in the neurodivergent community on social media (I’ve made some connections there), others, especially those with marginalized identities, have not been treated kindly. It’s vital that we don’t let our neurodivergence be an excuse for not examining our behavior and making sure that the -isms and -obias of our culture (racism, albeism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) are called out and not welcome within safe communities.
This requires strong moderation, set rules, and to be honest, a lot of mental bandwidth and energy. it’s also a community effort. Creating these radically safe spaces help heal the trauma inflicted upon many individuals and helps them to cultivate the social wellness and mental wellness aspects of the wellness wheel.
The bottom line is for those who have experienced trauma (even without a cPTSD diagnosis), being aware of how it, and your amygdala impacts your ability to make connections, helps to smooth the path of wellness and supports your radical holistic wellness.