We were talking about childhood trauma—as something we had in common, though we didn't go into any details—and about what it's like when that stuff gets triggered by stupid everyday shit in our current lives. This woman (V.) said that when she gets that frozen, panicked feeling, she reminds herself very firmly, "I am not prey."
Those words really resonated for me: "I am not prey." My whole emotional self was like ... like a bell had been struck, like I was vibrating in response. It was an incredible feeling.
This was last Friday, and I've spent a lot of time in the past week thinking about why I think "I am not prey" could be so useful to me as something to tell myself when I'm scared silly by trauma stuff.
The first reason these words resonated with me so much is that they tacitly acknowledge the fact that, in those moments, I feel like prey. I flash back to a time when I was small and helpless, a time when a ruthless predator was stalking around me, waiting to dart in to take a big bite out of me. When something triggers trauma stuff for me, I feel like prey, even if there's no predator in sight. Generally, I'm not afraid of a person, or even of anything happening ... I'm just afraid, with no direction or reason. The words "I am not prey" remind me that I'm reacting as if there's a predator circling me, which is almost always obviously ridiculous. There is no predator, so I can't be prey.
That's the second reason the words resonated with me so strongly: they remind me that there is no predator. If I say to myself, "I am not prey," my first reaction is to look up and around me for potential threats, which almost certainly do not exist.
The third reason these words resonate with me, and in fact probably the most important, is that they concretize my otherwise shapeless, all-pervasive fear. Instead of just drowning in some nameless dread, I reframe the situation in terms of physicality: animals. Saying, "I am not prey," makes me think of myself as NOT-a-rabbit-being-stalked-by-a-wolf. (Look around. There is no wolf, OBVIOUSLY. I am not a rabbit, OBVIOUSLY.) It makes me more aware of the true physicality of my situation (e.g., I'm sitting in a room full of perfectly normal, well-meaning fellow human beings who aren't even moving around, let alone trying to harm me), which is pretty much guaranteed to be less frightening than whatever my subconscious is supplying. Before this, I've always tried to remind myself of things like, "I'm safe," or "This is now, not then," or something similar, but those are too abstract. I think the concrete nature of reminding myself I'm not a prey animal might make a real difference.
The fourth reason these words resonate with me is that they empower me. They remind me (and/or help me believe) that I'm not a quivering meal-in-the-making; I'm an adult human being with plenty of coping techniques and choices. I'm not tiny, or at least not as tiny as I feel when that stuff gets triggered. I'm too big (whether that means size or age) to be prey. I have power. I'm a grown woman with all kinds of experiences and skills ... I'm not just going to lay down and quiver in fear.
The fifth reason "I am not prey" seems so potentially useful to me is that it packs a lot of stuff into very few words. All those things I just listed, all in four single-syllable words, probably fairly easy to remember even in a moment of panic.
To be clear, nothing has seriously triggered any trauma stuff for me since this conversation with V. last week, so I can't guarantee the effectiveness of "I am not prey" as an antidote to my PTSD panic, but "I am not prey" has run through my mind dozens of times since I first heard her say it, and every time I feel a bit stronger. I doubt it will be a magic bullet, but I think it might help.
Okay. My energy to write about this has been depleted.
Edited to Add: I initially posted this Friends-Locked, since it's such loaded subject matter for me, but I decided to make it Public, in case it might help anyone else. I may change my mind again later if comments scare me.