We’ve all known someone (or lots of someones) who goes through life like a tornado of chaos. It’s almost like they enjoy when their life is upside down and sideways.
Perhaps you’ve even asked them, “Do you actually like chaos?”
Their answer would undoubtably be, “No! Of course not!” And they mean it. More than likely, they daydream about things being simple and stable and quiet.
Why don’t they just chill?
If only it were that simple. The reason they don’t chill is the same reason people struggle to stop gambling or shopping compulsively or any of the other self-destructive behaviors that alter brain chemistry.
The brains of people who have lived with chaos for long periods of time have adapted to their circumstances in order to survive. It isn’t about whether they enjoy the chaos. It’s about what feels normal to their brain.
Consciously, we deem things worthy that look, taste, smell, and sound good to us. The subconscious brain values safety and comfort.
The primary role of the subconscious brain is to keep us safe. This means, when something painful or unpleasant happens, our subconscious brain records it, clinging to the memory as if its life depends on it. Why? Because its life depends on it.
Let me explain…
The subconscious brain is not as evolved as our conscious brain.
While our conscious brain is learning about the latest technology, driving cars, and reading self-help books, the subconscious brain is still stuck in prehistoric times.
The subconscious brain still believes that a saber tooth tiger might be lurking around the next bend. It can’t tell the difference between a bus coming at you at high speed and a wooly mammoth.
And your instinctual reaction would be the same either way… Run!
Back in the day, this was a great system. It was pretty cut and dry: danger = fight, flight, or freeze. You either run, fight back, or hide.
And then, once the danger has passed, your breathing regulates, your heart rate slows, and you go back to picking berries.
There’s just one problem with this…
In modern life, we face far more complex dangers:
- Our relationships are complex and sometimes dysfunctional.
- We face manipulation by individuals, the media, and institutions.
- Those who are supposed to protect us harm us the most, and sometimes in invisible ways that are hard to define and articulate.
- Our worst enemy is often someone we can’t outrun – ourselves.
Our subconscious can’t keep up!
With each new danger we encounter, our prehistoric subconscious brains are busy sending signals to our bodies to fight, run, or hide, but our modern world doesn’t allow space for that. We are supposed to suck it up, tough it out, and ignore it and hope it goes away.
So what happens?
Our subconscious gets confused and begins to think, “I guess this is normal. I’m just going to hold onto this and we’ll adjust to doing life this way.”
When someone appears to be “addicted to drama,” they kind of actually are.
Trauma tricks the subconscious brain into believing that chaos is a worthy, normal state. Once that adaptation occurs, healthy interactions and stable circumstances feel unsettling to the subconscious. In order to maintain the chaos, the subconscious drives us to crazy-making in order to return us to our “normal” state of disarray.
To a trauma survivor, stability feels strange and safe feels unsafe.
The good news is, if our subconscious brains can adapt to trauma, it can also adapt to stability.
The bad news is, trauma can happen in an instant and be entirely out of our control, but healing from trauma requires slow, intentional effort.
And, since we are only now beginning to understand how trauma impacts the brain, we have a lot of catching up to do. We’ve got generations of trauma stored in our subconscious, creating all kinds of drama. What took generations to create will take generations to undo.
This may feel overwhelming, but we don’t have to solve it overnight. Every small step towards boundaries, accountability, and grace brings us that much closer to balance and peace. It’s exciting to think about the possibility of healing now that we are beginning to understand ourselves.
And it’s easier to have grace for ourselves and others when we understand that we aren’t broken. Our brains are reacting to stressful circumstances exactly the way they were designed. We simply have to give our subconscious permission to let it go, stand down, and rest.