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Explaining a Delayed Startle Response

02 Jan

Question:

My startle reflex happens maybe 2-3 seconds AFTER someone walks into a room or opens a door unexpectedly.  I see who it is, stare at them (usually a family member), and then I jump, scream or cover my face.  It is so unsettling when this occurs. Is this a "normal" reaction to years of severe child abuse--that the startle would be so slow to start? Thank you in advance for your response.

Kind regards,

Ellie

Answer:

Dear Ellie,
I wasn’t familiar with this delay phenomenon, so I asked my neurologist friend and colleague, Robert Scaer MD (author of The Body Bears the Burden and an upcoming book in Babette Rothschild’s Eight Keys series with Norton), who is  known for his extraordinary generosity with his time and expertise. His website is www.traumasoma.com, just to return the favor.

Bob says he does think this is a variation of the startle response, probably a result of your being in a fairly chronic dissociated state – a common result from all that early trauma.  This would account for the lag time it takes for the person or event to register on your awareness – in those few seconds, you’re emerging from what is probably a pretty constant fog.

Therapy with someone proficient in dealing with posttraumatic stress and dissociative states would help you learn to consciously choose to more fully inhabit your body and be more aware of your feelings, your body sensations and your surroundings from moment to moment.

This would be important for your day-to-day safety and welfare.  People who dissociate are more likely to get mugged, get into accidents in cars and at home, and have problems with bullying and other kinds of unpleasantness in their relationships.  People who aren’t quite “home” are easy to push around!  Some experts even think that people who chronically dissociate are more likely to develop illnesses, because they are less likely to sense the beginnings of body discomfort at the early symptom phase.  

With the right kind of therapy, you could learn to be present gradually and incrementally - at a pace that would feel safe and comfortable for you.

I hope you will consider this.

All best,

Belleruth

Belleruth Naparstek

Psychotherapist, author and guided imagery pioneer Belleruth Naparstek is the creator of the popular Health Journeys guided imagery audio series. Her latest book on imagery and posttraumatic stress, Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal (Bantam Dell), won the Spirituality & Health Top 50 Books Award