October 12, 2021

Is Busyness a Trauma Response?


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This quote resonated with me deeply:

“Feeling the need to be busy all the time is a trauma response and fear-based distraction from what you’d be forced to acknowledge and feel if you slowed down.” ~ Unknown

Having gone on a long, long journey of self-discovery (and still going until my last breath), I appreciated these words sincerely because slowing down—stillness—has been the key to my healing.

But when I first entered the world of meditation or anything related to “slowing down,” I was not open to it. Coming from a religious background, I was afraid of anything remotely different from the Christianity I was raised to believe. (A cultish Christianity, not one I vibe with today.)

I entered ever so slightly and carefully into the world of quietness and inner reflection. Growing up with an extremist religious background, the guilt and grip over me for trying something outside of doctrine was frightening. 

When I first started meditation, I was lying on my back, for not even a few minutes until things began to surface (a reflection of how busy I was). I hardly made the time to pause.

Instantly, anger, sadness, and guilt rose to the surface. I remember thinking, “How dare you feel this way—who are you to complain?” There was no one around, and I hardly ever spoke about my struggles with people. So what was this voice telling me to keep things locked away?

I didn’t feel I had the right to examine what I was feeling.

But in that moment, I chose to look at it and let myself feel whatever I wanted to for the first time in my life. And it was incredibly uncomfortable. I was worried, almost as if I was looking over my shoulder to see if anyone was going to ridicule me or tell me to shove it back inside.

As I sat with the discomfort, this moment turned into something incredible. A sense of lightness saturated my entire being.

But I had to go through some murky terrain to get there.

I noticed a spark of joy flutter into my mind and heart soon thereafter. Doing something completely out of my comfort zone ended up feeling good. It was like a door opened into a new space, an unfamiliar space. A sense of relief, kind of like when we’re hiking in nature, or a fresh breeze glides along our face, or we take a deep breath.

This was eight years ago. And it was the first of many moments when I allowed myself to slow down and acknowledge the truth that had been buried.

Slowing down, to me, is not about stopping or letting go of our “dreams.” It’s not about laziness and doing nothing in life.

Slowing down is about listening. It’s about facing the truth, acknowledging our pain, and being open to answers that come from within us.

But in a logical-based world, where we forfeit faith and space in favor of doing everything in our own power—it can be challenging to slow down and listen.

Listen to who? Listen to what?

For those of us who have been taught to adhere to the opinions, expectations, and demands of others since a young age, listening to ourselves was not encouraged. It feels wrong at first, which may explain why we feel guilty for slowing down. We’re in a sense saying to ourselves, “I give myself permission to hear myself—and ignore the opinions of others.” And that’s not something we are used to.

When we don’t know ourselves, this is a strange, unfamiliar place to visit—our true selves.

If we were not embraced growing up, nor did we feel accepted, heard, or loved for being our true selves, visiting who we genuinely are and listening to the pain of our youth can be anxiety-provoking. We have to face the person that has felt rejected and unworthy, and it’s too close; it’s too sickening—because, well, it’s painful.

Why were we not enough? What was it about us that was unloveable or unworthy?

Facing inner trauma and emotional or psychological pain is a process with multiple layers. There are questions on a soul level we need to ask and resolve, or understand. We need to transform brain patterns that don’t have much to do with our worth. There’s also the process of updating our minds and changing belief systems we learned from a young age.

All of these aspects are part of the healing journey, yet they don’t often make themselves known until we are ready to start listening. Along the path, things are revealed in doses and increments, and we often notice the biggest changes in hindsight.

This is why slowing down and making room for silence continuously in our lives until our final breath is essential. It’s a practice—an ongoing practice.

It ensures that we are making space for truth to visit us—the truth that sets us free, clears past or current hurts, and allows us to overcome obstacles.

But also, truth is double-fold. It also gives us answers and a way out of our mess. It highlights the path that can lead to inner freedom and new understandings.

Truth is clarity.

But it can be uncomfortable to face when we have lived avoiding or trying to block out the pain through means of busyness (and other vices). It seems easier to bury our head in the sand instead of looking at it—because maybe if we distract ourselves long enough, time will wash away its sting.

However, contrary to what we may have been told, time does not heal deep wounds on its own. Instead, it creates a blanket of false comfort. The truth is still needed.

The thing about burying our pain and our confusion about why things happen, and how much they hurt us, is that it never truly goes away until we choose to look. It sits there, bubbling underneath the surface, dictating how we respond and act in life.

A trauma-based response to life and fear-based action can be a way to protect ourselves from the same things happening to us again.

We may seek out opportunities we think will make us feel better but don’t lead to lasting fulfillment or peace. Because we were trying to survive at one point, we later learn to operate like this in everyday life even when the same threats are not present.

Perhaps we view people with suspicion, or we’re always watchful in case something bad happens. For me, I was worried the other shoe would drop or the rug would be pulled from under me. I feared the worst.

Busyness, hard work, and a relentless drive in everything I was doing was my distraction—my vice—to avoid that bubbling mess deep down.

But more so, to maintain a sense of control. (Because isn’t the lack of control part of the soul-crushing experience?)

No matter how much I tried to change myself through exercise, countless YouTube “mindset” videos, books, hard work, losing weight, learning about the brain and mind, it never seemed to go deep enough. I was trying to control the process of life—and control the path of life—because I didn’t trust myself.

And I didn’t trust life.

I didn’t feel I could rely on my own voice, feelings, or soul because I learned not to from a young age.

I learned not to trust that the answers to my woes could be from within myself.

Perhaps those who taught us, influenced us, and were part of inflicting our pain, didn’t trust themselves either. Maybe they, too, were scarred and experienced things that caused distrust in life. Their desire to claim control over their own lives caused pain and suffering to others rather than looking within themselves.

The cycle passes down until we decide to look within and recognise that healing starts with us.

I understand that when unfair things happen, when the pain is deep, and when the trauma is shocking, a part of us does not want to look within. Why is it our responsibility to endeavour to heal from the pain someone else has caused? Why should we have to endure any of it? Why should we have to look at it again to overcome it?

It’s not fair. And unfortunately, that it is true—it is not fair. In this world, a lot of things are not fair.

But when we choose to slow down and face the truth, it empowers us. It gives us back the power that was stripped away or mishandled. It returns to us control—not in a controlling, limiting kind of way, but in an empowering “I have a choice” to be free sort of way.

It allows us to have another chance at life through a new lens. We can’t change our past, but we can embrace and carve out a new present and future.

Trauma, emotional, or psychological pain is not something we can heal or understand overnight, but it is an incredible journey if we choose to embark into the depths of ourselves. We can’t flick a switch and suddenly become someone else. Sure, we can have insights that wake us up and shake us to change, but those changes still take time.

The process is about getting to know ourselves, maybe for the first time, and making peace with what we could not control. 

I didn’t always know this, understand it, or believe in it. I was convinced that doing more, pushing myself harder, and being active all the damn time was the only way to become a better person—a free person.

On my journey, I never set out to heal trauma or emotional pain. I didn’t know much about the brain, the mind, or how things from our youth can play a role in future struggles or displacement within ourselves. For me, I became desperate—desperate for change, for discovering a life of inner freedom. I decided I didn’t have anything to lose—and I chose to voyage off on a path that was unlike the one I had been living.

Over time, I noticed commonalities. Whenever I took time to be still, hike, meditate, and listen to myself—no matter how uncomfortable it was—something in me shifted. A lightness, understanding toward myself and others, self-compassion—they filtered in and beautifully filled the holes I didn’t even know were there.

I started realizing that I was living life so fast, so busy, so intensely, and I didn’t need to. It was a way to avoid the truth.

Welcoming stillness into my life took a long time, over a decade, to be okay with it and comfortable in its presence.

Amazing things have happened each time I have taken a step back and listened.

The silence is not so scary anymore.

The truth can be overwhelming—especially when it’s filled with pain, people we love, and our expectations of how things should have been.

But it’s what sets us free.


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