The Seeping Box Metaphor for Trauma

[The seeping box metaphor is one of the most useful trauma metaphors that I have found.  Clients seem to understand every part of it intuitively.  We continue this metaphor through all parts of safety and reprocessing.]

When we’re kids and terrible things come at us, we have the impulse to fight or flee. But, we can’t fight because we have no real power. That’s just one of the things that really sucks about being a kid. We can’t flee because there is no place to go and we’re already with those who should be protecting us from horrible things. And, this is the only thing we know. Many of us learn to do the only option that remains–we try to go away on the inside. The things that come at us continue to come. We don’t know what to think, or feel, or do. We learn to put that hot stuff in a box and we put a lid on it. We often don’t choose to do this, but we can’t hold this stuff loose inside our bodies and inside our heads. It’s too hot. Life keeps coming at us and we have to go to school, we have to smile and pretend like we’re okay, and we have to figure out how to stay safe right now. As more things happen, we throw them in that box and slam the lid. Sometimes, it may not take a lot of energy to keep that lid sealed. Other times, it takes all the energy we have and we have nothing left for whatever of us is outside that box. Life itself can rattle us and rattle that lid. Things seep out. Everything in that box is lava–the temperature of shame. Seeping is horrible: red hot memories, trauma-related dreams, time-travelling panic, and every hot and cold emotion. Things seep out when they want to–in classrooms, in movies, in familiar places, in strange places, even in times when we feel okay and can start to feel our own feet beneath us.

The days come. Then, we’re not kids anymore… if we didn’t become an adult at seven, or nine, or thirteen. But, what’s in that box didn’t cool in all that time. Even the parts that seeped out the most just got put back in even hotter. Along the way, we may have learned ways to flee–to get outside of ourselves and take the bargain of numbness: alcohol… drugs… or just learning in a very deep way to get outside of our bodies, away from that heat. As we get older and bigger, we might learn to get angry. Anger can keep people out of our space, away from our hot core. It can feel like a way to protect ourselves. This anger, like numbness, does not cool what’s inside.  And, what’s inside still seeps.

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