Why People Are Jerks
By Z Zoccolante
Recently I witnessed an attack at the dog park. A large dog, who shouldn’t have been at the park, caught a little dog (who sat on my lap at that time) by the front paw, chomped down and wouldn’t let go. I couldn’t move my body fast enough to pull the little dog out of the way and in a second the little dog’s owner was pulling at her dog and screeching. The large dog’s owner couldn’t make her dog let go. The few others grabbed for our dogs to hold them back.
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There was screaming. We were all yelling. The little dog was high pitched screeching. It was a completely helpless feeling. Two men jumped the fence to help us and when the dog finally let go we grabbed our things to follow the girl with the small dog. She was clearly in shock. Her hands showed little cuts with lines of red blood. Her dog (who ended up having a broken leg) was calm and licking the air. Someone drove her to the vet, and after the chaos departed that’s when I began to process.
My body quivered as though water droplets were vibrating, like huge dinosaurs were walking through my internal world. One thing I know about myself is that in active crisis, I stay calm and clear. It’s in the aftermath that everything pools in.
A strange part about trauma is that there are moments when you’re completely alone. In mass trauma, you could be surrounded by a sea of people but you walk through in a surreal haze. Other times, you’re left alone in the aftermath, both physically and emotionally, like the floor of your heart dropped out.
As I rode home with my dog safe in the backseat, I let tears roll down my face without wiping them away. I thought about the woman’s tiny dog. I was slightly ashamed that I was afraid of the huge dog biting me and hadn’t jumped into help. I thought about the class I’m taking in school about trauma and I cried for us as humans.
At the end of the day humans are animals too, sure with larger brains and more cognition, but still animals. I felt sad for the big dog, despite his behavior. He was probably a rescue who’d probably been abused and had trauma. I thought about people and how all of us are walking around in the world with trauma. When I talk to people, sometimes I think it’s a wonder that we even function at all. Some people have had some gnarly things that happened to them in their childhood. Some people have had gnarly things that happened to them at various points in their lives.
I thought about how we never know what someone’s been through by looking at them, how we have invisible stories and woundings. Often we’re traumatized and then expected to move on and function like “normal” people in society. But what happens when we get triggered and something sharp leans into our woundings?
We act out like that big dog and can end up hurting others and ourselves. We throw our energy around like firecrackers, in dangerous ways. People are jerks because we’re all traumatized and act out when our woundings get pressed.
As I was chatting with a friend about this human predicament she said something fascinating. She said:
“You’re not allowed to show that trauma. You’re only allowed to show it in therapy, which is expensive and hard to complete. It’s work to get into therapy. And when you’re traumatized, when I’ve needed it the most, I’m like completely incapable of getting myself to therapy. But then I’m good, I’m like I should go to therapy.”
We laughed about it because I too have felt incapable of getting myself the help I desperately needed at my lowest points. But there is hope and we don’t have to do it alone. Our woundings don’t have to stay open and raw.
It took me a few times to get myself into therapy but it was hands down the thing I needed to recover from my eating disorder. I had someone who loved me terribly and begged me to get help and stood by my side as I recovered. I realize looking back that I was fortunate to have found my therapist and had someone who stayed because they loved me and believed in me.
But no matter where you are with your woundings, the most important thing you can do to heal your trauma is to start exactly where you are. I’m an advocate of therapy. I’m a firm believer in somatic bodywork. I think it’s fantastic to set aside time to cry or scream in your car. I had a friend who sat on the freezing cold roof of her apartment building in the city they lived and did EFT (a free therapy) for a year to clear an issue in her life.
There is always hope and there are so many therapies available now. If one doesn’t work for you, find another one that fits you better.
If you’d like to find a therapist please see my article How to Find a Therapist You Love
You are not alone. If it helps, keep in mind that I was one of those people who didn’t think I’d ever recover. Now, as I stand on the other side, I know that it’s possible. I believe. I believe in you too.