Hello, my Sweet Angels! Welcome to Season 1, Episode 2 of the Level Up with Pearl podcast. Either the podcast title or the description (or both!) resonated with you somehow and so, here you are.
This is the right place for you if you’ve been struggling with your emotions – especially with regard to how intense they may feel – in your relationships. Sometimes it feels like someone is asking too much or trying to shove you out of your comfort zone. Other times it may feel like you are a volcano, with emotions threatening to burst out to destroy you and everything around you.
Either way, it’s scary. It’s like you are peeking out of the slightly open door to your secret safe room and you really do want to come out and be your honest, open self but you have no idea how to protect that last, innocent piece of yourself at the same time.
If you’d like to break through and give yourself a chance to claim your own happily-ever-after (with or without someone else!), I’d like to welcome you to my mountain, Sweets. Grab a drink, make yourself comfortable, and let’s get to work!
A trauma box or trauma room is usually caused by, well, trauma. By design, it is supposed to protect your inner child from further hurt, whether the trauma was emotional, mental, physical, sexual, or spiritual and it is totally possible to have more than one trauma box.
For example, one of my trauma boxes was related to sexuality and it caused me to disconnect from what was happening to me during sex. My mind automatically went into the trauma box, my emotions numbed, and my body didn’t feel anything.
Logically, I know I knew what was happening and my body did too because I would turn my head to the side and cry silently but mentally and emotionally, I went somewhere else. A small room – a box, really – where I was alone, where no one could hurt me. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to realize I couldn’t reach out to anyone else either.
It made my former partner think horrible things about me and there was nothing I could say to convince him otherwise. Neither of us knew about trauma boxes at the time and no matter how much negative energy was channeled at breaking me, I remained stoic.
BUT that and other experiences poured further trauma onto my trauma and further reinforced the belief that the trauma box was necessary. Which, of course, further channeled my energy into strengthening the walls of my trauma box and my trigger-to-turtle ratio response time.
Your trauma box doesn’t have to have anything to do with your sexuality (or it could) but it will function similarly: it’s a place where your mind can automatically go to be alone, to stop feeling whatever you were feeling, and give yourself a chance to breathe, to calm down, to take your emotion level down from 10 to a more normal 3, or 5 max.
Or maybe even a 0, depending upon your trauma. You may not want to feel anything.
Before and after you come in or out of your trauma box, you pass through a phase I call turtling. It’s when you begin the process of squashing or expanding your energy to match the space you are moving into.
This can happen so fast you don’t even recognize you are entering your trauma box or it can go slow enough that you recognize and consciously decide to continue the process and enter your trauma box.
Your transition speed will depend upon what your trigger was, how safe or unsafe you felt, how much the trigger impacted you at that moment, and whether you’ve experienced something similar in the past.
No matter how much you may want to express yourself freely or even connect on a deeper level, it always winds up feeling like there’s an invisible barrier. A barrier that alternates between annoying and terrifying. It sort of protects you, while it also blocks you and your energy from reaching the ones (or one) you would like to connect with on a deeper level.
Let’s take a quick peek into our fictitious couple, John and Tina:
John and Tina are having an argument. John starts to feel uncomfortable with the amount of emotion he feels building within him. He’s okay with Tina’s anger, her verbal outbursts, and her tears. They are normal to him because he believes she is normal. The emotions building within him, however, are starting to scare him a little.
What if he loses control like his dad? What if he hurts Tina or their relationship? Is this level of emotional build-up normal? He thinks it might be for others but he can’t afford to lose control, he could lose it all! So he begins to turtle into his trauma box. He still feels uncomfortable but at least he’s managed to harness the external expression of what is swirling within him.
Meanwhile, Tina’s emotional level ratches up x200%. He’s done it again! John has cut her off and gone emotionless. He doesn’t care what she says or does, his energy and emotion was cut off! Or maybe he never had any emotion toward her. She’s tired of this hot-cold crap. Is he in or out? She doesn’t want to keep playing this game.
It has never been a game to John though. He really does love Tina and wants this to work. He can’t understand why she’d want him to just open up, unleash the turmoil he’s worked so hard to control for years. Why doesn’t she believe he cares? He does everything he can to show her. Including keeping a lid on what he feels are his intense emotion.
Tina appreciates everything John does: from making sure her car always has gas, to taking out the trash, and contributing to the daily chores. But her heart wants his heart. She wants him to trust her enough to open up and really be there. Not just physically be there but fully be there.
Mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and sexually. Through the ups and downs, good and bad, happy and sad. Tina wants to live a full, deep, true love with John.
John wants that too but he doesn’t want to risk losing his self-control. It’s too overwhelming and potentially dangerous.
How Long It Lasts
John’s turtling and trauma box process will change as he changes and can even fade away once he feels he is safe enough to fully be himself. However, it is important to note that both John’s and your trauma box and turtling process can remain dormant and potentially be triggered later on in life.
This does not mean you should be scared, ashamed, or constantly worried about how your trauma box or turtling will affect your life. It is simply just a heads up that this may remain in the background and has the potential to pop up again unexpectedly.
Now you won’t beat yourself up, be taken by surprise, or be caught off guard in case you suddenly find yourself reverting to these coping tactics. Life happens and history may repeat itself but knowledge and self-awareness is power.
How It Affects Relationships
Although trauma boxes and turtling are meant to be internal ways to protect yourself, they also hurt your relationships because they cut off all energy and emotion from going in or going out. The person you are dealing with will feel like you disappeared, even if you are standing right in front of them.
If – like our fictional couple, John and Tina – your turtling and trauma box retreat happened during a heated argument with someone you are romantically connected to, you may be accused of being cold, uncaring, and not really loving them. You may love them with all your heart and soul and even tell them so, but the energy disconnect will make them feel like that is not true at all.
Actions speak louder than words and energy often conveys a lot more than anything we can say or do. Imagine having a puppy you love, take for walks, feed regularly, and cuddle with. The puppy feels the connection and is content. Until you are busy with work or have to deal with something really difficult, like the loss of a family member, and you withdraw emotionally and energetically.
Even though you are there physically, the rest of you is not and your puppy may begin to cry. A lot.
Did you stop loving your puppy? No. Were you still there for your puppy? Yes. But were you sharing your loving energy and emotion with your puppy? No.
The same thing happens with human relationships except puppies are not able to communicate with you the same way another human can. In their confusion and hurt, your human partner could lash out or try to push you to return to them somehow.
Even healthy relationships can be torpedoed by turtling and trauma boxes. Without open and honest communication, these relationships may even be the first to end because your partner will have boundaries and expectations they could be unwilling to give up.
These would be the things you may have both agreed upon when you became an official couple. Because they value themselves, their energy, and their emotions, they may make the difficult decision to walk away and search for someone who “really cares”. Even though YOU may really care, they won’t be able to feel it because your trauma box cuts your connection off.
Unhealthy relationships can turn into a toxic yin-yang of emotional outbursts. At times it may feel exciting, passionate even, but you are both just slashing into each other further. Reinforcing your and their turtling and trauma boxes, triggering more episodes, and going full rollercoaster.
Is the intense make-up sex really worth the damage you are both inflicting on each other and your relationship?
Thankfully, there are many simple and highly effective things you can do to support yourself while reducing your need for turtling and your trauma box. Signing on with a medical professional is something that I highly recommend regardless of what may be happening on your life journey.
Not only will they provide a safe place for you to work through what you need to work through but they can also provide you with tools and – if necessary – medication tailored specifically to your needs and situation.
In addition to, or if you aren’t ready, for a medical professional, these are the top three things you can do to further empower and support yourself:
This is the easiest and most private option. You can choose to use a traditional journal or opt for a passcode-protected app. There are many, many options out there but all you really need is a notebook and something to write with. You could even use your email as a journal by using something like [Journal] in the subject line and typing out whatever you feel you need to release or express.
If you are up for it, you can make your journaling even more powerful by combining techniques. For example, you could start with 3 things you are looking forward to, 5 compliments to yourself and venting throughout the day, and end your day by documenting 5 things you are grateful for.
2. Enlist Your Partner Or Trusted Friend
This may/may not be the ideal option as relationships are not 100% guaranteed but this level of trust and openness can definitely deepen the intimacy you already have. This might feel scary but could be something you need to do if you want to keep your relationship healthy.
Opening up to someone is never easy but how amazing would it feel to be seen and to have your concerns about your trauma acknowledged (even if you don’t share specific details about what happened to create the trauma)?
Your partner or friend can help you stay accountable to yourself and your desire to free yourself from turtling and your trauma box. How you choose to enlist their help is entirely up to you. Maybe you have a safe word they can use to help you become more mindful of what’s happening in the moment and turn your attention to your energy and how you want to respond to the situation. Or you could get a bit more involved and have a post-episode review or retrospective.
3. Find Or Create A Support Group
This option can be as superficial or dive as deep as you feel comfortable going. It may take a few tries to find the group that fits you best but once you’ve found your place, you’ll be surrounded by others who are also going through their own turtling and trauma box journeys.
This would be my third choice as sometimes surrounding yourself with others in the same struggle can keep you in struggle. In business, they say you become the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with and that is a potential pitfall here.
For the most part, support groups provide guidance, tools, and social support that reminds you there is nothing wrong with you. Everyone is struggling with something and as sad as it is, it can make us feel better to know others are going through things too.
You can add prayer, meditation, affirmations, visualizations, and pretty much anything you think may be helpful. Just be mindful of adding too much, as too much is just as bad as not enough.
Quotes of Note
You were given the gift of free will at birth and automatically withdrawing into what sounds like your safe place can be a double-edged sword. While it may initially start out as a way to deal with in-the-moment trauma, turtling and trauma boxes repress your ability to live fully and love with an open heart.
Your energy is precious and can be either be used to connect with or disconnect from others. Harness your free will and choose how you truly want to live, my friend.