Entry Fifty Three- An Analogy

Consider a fire at an elementary school. A veteran firefighter can walk right up to the flames and put them out, business as usual. In contrast, a first-grader witnessing his classroom burst into flames will experience minutes of intense fear, confusion and helplessness….a fifth grader in a different part of the building didn’t feel as threatened. To him, the fire was almost exciting, because he was further from the threat, he felt safe the entire time.

So we have three people in the same event, each experiencing it differently. And because each experienced it differently, each had a different stress response. Based on her years of experience and practice, the firefighter had a moderate activation of her stress-response systems; the event felt predictable and controllable. For her, it was a resilience-building experience, not a trauma.

For the fifth-grader, there was a temporary activation of his stress response, in a week or so the acute effects of this activation are gone; he is back to his baseline, “in balance”, not traumatized. For the first-grader, however his stress-response systems were highly activated; he will develop a sensitized stress-response system.

What Happened to you By Dr. Bruce D. Perry and Oprah Winfrey

This made sense to me.

Over the last couple of years I have definitely struggled more than my husband has with “getting over” everything that has happened. My husband and I both experienced the same events in regards to my son, but from a different distance.

This is how it had to happen, one of us had to be with our daughter while the other had to take care of Oscar’s urgent needs. The above excerpt taken from the book, What Happened To You? explains why I have developed a different, more sensitized stress-response system compared to my husband. I am the first grader.

My husband continues to be supportive of where I am but also encourages me to push the boundaries of my comfort zone. He has seemingly grieved, adapted and accepted our new normal more easily than I have (or will). He is maybe more like the fifth grader?

My husband and I have been a part of the same events, but we have experienced them differently. This explains why our stress-response systems are also different. Why he seems to be more “in balance” and why my stress response is now more sensitive.

Even though this analogy doesn’t fix anything for me, it did help me understand why I am the way I am and maybe why my husband is the way he is. The more I learn about trauma and traumatic experiences, the more able I feel to give myself some compassion for feeling the way that I do. I am hoping that this analogy can also help you to understand why you may have a different response to the same event compared to your spouse or partner. And maybe you too can give yourself a pass.

Photo Taken: May 2021

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