Have you ever noticed that you are hyper-aware of other people’s changing moods?
This awareness could be a trauma response.
It could be that you haven’t always exactly known what you were experiencing, but you recognize that you can regularly detect when someone or something feels “off” – usually better than those around you. Sometimes this has worked in your favour, but other times it can come with problems. If this is you, you aren’t alone – and if you’ve experienced complex trauma there’s likely a very good reason you have this awareness.
The first thing to know is that this “skill” can be a nervous system adaptation. At the core of this hyper-awareness, is often a desire to stay safe. It is common for folks who have experienced intimate partner violence, family-related abuse, or similar ongoing trauma – to express that a strategy they developed was being aware of the abusive person(s) moods. When a change occurs that indicates something negative is likely to happen, this is when it would make sense to avoid or placate those who are harmful.
In truth, this makes a lot of sense. This awareness likely served as a very useful safeguard and deserves compassion.
As is often the case, even after there is safety, this adaptation is likely to persist in the future, in ways that are no longer helpful. This could mean having anxiety when the energy in the room shifts, feeling obligated to keep things chipper, assuming someone is mad when they are more quiet than usual, or being unable to express yourself when someone’s mood is not as expected.
And while this indeed can be troublesome, there can also be situations where this awareness can be a gift. You may be the person that notices when someone is not okay when others don’t. This can be the friend that magically shows up with donuts at the exact needed moment. It can be the nurse who asks twice because they don’t believe the first answer.
This awareness can also be a gift in that it may help you with staying safe if some future danger occurs. it makes give you the needed nudge to walk away from a bad date or causes you to hesitate to leave your car when something feels off.
In truth, it can be difficult to sort out what is reasonable or even useful awareness vs troublesome hyper-awareness. The important thing to know is that you are not alone in this, that there are very valid reasons that your nervous system developed this ability, and that you can offer yourself kind curiosity when exploring this. This is often a great topic to discuss therapy, likewise support groups and self-help can be of assistance.
Above all remember to show yourself compassion.
If you’d like to follow along with my journey, you can find me on Instagram as @mentalhealthyxe.
Heidi Fischer is a mental health advocate who lives in Saskatoon, Canada. Heidi enjoys writing about her personal experience with C-PTSD, Depression, and Anxiety. Heidi is the creator of a popular mental health Instagram called @mentalhealthyxe and can also be found on her website mentalhealthyxe.com.