What is a Trauma Response and Did Will Smith Have One?

Trauma Response Episode 2 web post size (2)

We all have the power to overcome our trauma and take back control of our experiences

I’m biting the bullet and going straight into trauma responses.

I’ll be sharing what they are, how they happen, and then giving a perspective into the Will Smith, Chris Rock, Oscar situation that only a person who is intimate with the destruction of trauma responses can give:


One of hope and empathy.

In this episode I’ll share:

   What a trauma response is

   What is happening in our brain and nervous system during a trauma response

   Why this matters for our creative growth

   Why we should extend empathy to everyone because of this

Time Stamps



 This is Gritty Birds, a podcast, all about creative recovery, where you’ll learn how to reconnect to your passion for life, change your patterns, and ultimately empower the grit that you already have within you to thrive as a creator. I’m your host content creator, media coach, artists, and owner of the podcasters forum, Jeni Wren Stottrup.

It’s episode two and I’m biting the bullet and going straight into trauma responses, I’ll be sharing what they are, how they happen, and then giving a perspective into the Will Smith, Chris Rock, Oscar situation that only a person who is intimate with the destruction of trauma responses can give: one of hope and empathy.

If this is a topic that is triggering to you, I understand I’m feeling that way right now. Take a break, come back to it, or don’t, when you’re ready. It’s a tough one for me, but it’s really important and core to the work of the show. So I’m changing my release order just a bit to address it.

I want to make a really important programming note on this show. I will not be sharing details of my own personal trauma. I will address how I experienced it and how I moved to beyond. The tone of this show is meant to be hopeful. And to me, overcoming obstacles is a lot more interesting than trauma porn. I’m not here to exploit or to justify. I want anyone who is listening to something like today’s episode to come into it with an open ear.

It will bring up things for you because of the fact that we’re talking about trauma. It will likely remind you of certain things, but these are amazing things that help us become more empowered that validate our experience and help us take our next step in our growth journeys. It’s hard to approach scary things, but we can do it.

And I’m here to help so that you can thrive as a creator.

Now let’s get going. This is Gritty Birds and it’s time to create.

[00:02:44] What we’ll be covering in this episode

 What is a trauma response? And did Will Smith have one. I’m giving you the skinny on will Smith and trauma responses from me, a PTSD survivor who has a long history of trauma responses. So we’re just going to dive into it. So, first of all, I’m just going to give a quick overview of what happened at the Oscars.

Then I’m going to go into. How people responded online, and then I’m going to say how I saw it. This is part one. And then I’m going to go into this episode, what a trauma response is like, how the brain works what causes them, what they feel like, and then how we actually address them.

I’m going to validate why they’re complicated to address why, how you feel about experiencing them yourself, or when you’re experiencing someone else’s trauma response.

Why that is really challenging and why that has to do with us as creators. We’re really going to be diving into the context here. This is going to be a more extreme example, but every trauma response that we have is related to now, our brain works how our nervous system is working and what’s happening at this moment.

When we have these big displays that you see, that’s just like looking at a global picture of something that happens in our neighborhood.

Every one of us has big responses and we have small responses. They’re all coming from the way that the brain is working and the way that we’re going to work through them has to do with understanding that it is our brain and being able to find new processes, to be able to get past it.

[00:04:31] The Will Smith of it all

Let’s dive in. So what happened at the Oscars? If you were under a brick for the last week, you might’ve missed this .

Will Smith at the height of his career, went up on stage and slapped Chris Rock in response to a joke about his wife, Jada and alopecia, it related to GI Jane 2. Will Smith proceeded to laugh and then look at his wife who was nonplussed, went on stage and hit him.

Chris rock was shocked. Will Smith sat back down repeated what he said on stage keep my wife’s name out of your mouth. Later on Will who was not removed from the telecast, proceeded to win the Oscar, apologized to everyone except Chris Rock. There has been a lot of conversation about what happened ever since then.

[00:05:21] The online responses

So the responses online have been complicated

 There are a lot of ways to look at this. There are also a lot of people responding to what this brought up for them because they had a traumatic response because this was a very extreme thing to see. It makes sense that everyone’s reactions were to the extremes that they were.

There were people , who were saying he absolutely should not have done that. And will Smith while he shouldn’t have. Absolutely. It was right that he defended his wife or there were folks that said it’s Jada’s fault. She controls Will Smith. And then there were folks that were just like will Smith is a toxic man and the fact that they are justifying domestic violence is never okay.

All of those are valid responses because every single one of those was a response to how somebody has experienced a similar situation, how they’ve experienced trauma.

All of those are valid because it’s their reaction to what they saw.

Now for me, what I saw was Will Smith having a trauma response on stage and the train wreck of seeing. And I felt really sympathetic toward him I completely related because I’ve experienced what he experienced. And they were never something that was planned and they were completely an instinctual fear-based response to trauma.

And that’s what I saw.

[00:06:57] What is a trauma response

So what exactly is a trauma response? Let’s get into this. So we’re going to talk first about how the brain works. So when something happens to us, good or bad, our brain stores that in our memory. It says either that was the best thing that’s ever happened to me, or that’s the worst thing that happens to me.

So if it’s the best thing your brain is going to be like, I want more of that more, please, please, please. If it’s does it like the experience it’s going to say, I don’t want to experience this anymore. And it’s going to have a response.

So we’ve got the three parts of our brain. We’ve got our amygdala, we’ve got our hippocampus and then we’ve got our prefrontal cortex.

So when we have a big traumatic thing happened to us that’s bad those three work together to manage our stress. Our amygdala, it handles our emotions and our hippocampus, it is the one that tells us where our space and time is. And then our self-regulation is coming in from our prefrontal cortex.

When we have a traumatic experience, the memory of what happened is burned into the area. And the next time that you encounter something that reminds you of it, it could be all kinds of things could be a smell, it could be something somebody says to you, it could be variety of all of these different things.

If you’re having a major trauma response, first of all, your hippocampus, it thinks you’re still in the moment that that happened the first time. Your prefrontal cortex loses all inhibitions and it becomes highly reactive and your amygdala,

it goes into overdrive and. it It actually recreates the experience, the emotions that you had in that first place. So you are in a state where you don’t know what time it is. You’re very disoriented. Your emotions are high and you’re highly reactive.

Every one of these things is happening in a split second. This isn’t a like slow process. It’s like you get triggered. And then all of a sudden you’re in this state, you can’t breathe. You are. Dizzy your body is in a physical state. And if you are in a state where it’s reactive, if you are not able to take that pause, things can happen that you will highly regret that your body is doing so that it can protect you.

[00:09:29] Your nervous system – sympathetic and parasympathetic

So. It is sending your nervous system into two different states, either the sympathetic nervous system, which is your fight or your flight or your parasympathetic system, which is your freeze. That can also be your fawn.. So if you’ve got your freeze, that is where you’re disassociating.

That thing is happening and you like just don’t exist. Someone could ask you a question. You don’t even know where you’re at. It might just look like somebody is like listening and they seem really calm. That very likely could be a freeze symptom. And in those freeze symptoms, you could ask that person to do anything.

And that person has no concept how to do it, to get somebody out of the parasympathetic system back into even movement is really, really hard. Disassociation is one way that my body handled things for a long time.

In the moment of it though, I would often go into fight. I wasn’t a big FLIR. I was one who tended to, if something happened and I felt really heightened, I would react .

And it could be something as small as replying to emails. I wasn’t ever responding in these ways because I wanted to, it was a response that was happening and I no longer had control of myself. And it was terrifying.

So when will Smith had that happened? I felt a sense of sadness for him because I don’t know his life, but I can’t see that he would go up there and consciously do any of those actions that he did.

How could that be good for his career in the height of his life? Right?

[00:11:24] Why does this matter to us and why it matters to me

Is that what happened? I don’t know, but it’s important to understand our trauma responses because they’re not always that big.

Let’s, let’s back up a little bit. Our trauma responses that we are experiencing happen on all kinds of levels, and they’re not always activated by one giant thing that can happen.

 One of the things that drove me to do the show is that I wanted to have the tools that I have now. I wanted to have those five years ago when I stopped doing gritty birds, because I was having such severe panic attacks. , I wish I could have had these tools when I snapped at somebody in my classroom and lost teaching job.

I wish that I’d had understanding that any of this was happening on the level that it was so that when the circumstances that led to what happened, I would have continued my meditation training and my studies cause I was, I was teaching meditation. It was a huge part of my life and I left it. Geniously because I felt like I was doing better.

[00:12:43] Doing our maintenence

Cause I was,

what’s cool about any of this is that it’s like doing maintenance, working with our nervous systems. Hat is, is a constant maintenance. It’s like mowing your lawn. It’s like fertilizing your soil or watering your plants. Your plants, they might do well for a while, but like, if you ever had a plant that you forgot to water and it just didn’t die right away, it got really kind of wirey and it stayed.

And we all have something that we get stuck in. And most of the time it is because of a trauma response.

. But if we can change our relationship with it, we have.

The ability to control it. If we are able to learn skills that allow us to have pause, we have more control of it. If we start to have more confidence in the things that we do well, it has less control over us. If we’re able to walk through those situations and practice breathing through it, we can experience those things if we can be doing movement so that our parasympathetic nervous system.

Is no longer just living there. The, we are activating our sympathetic nervous system through things like yoga. We can move through these

The more that we can heal our brain and the connections between it, both through meditation and through physical activity and through certain types of techniques tapping.

 EMDR can also same with like hypnosis.

[00:14:19] Where trauma responses come from

I hope that you’re really just avoiding whatever it is that you don’t want to do. I hope you know that if you feel sweaty and clammy and you’re having even mild panic attack feelings around that, that’s normal.

Like a good example is I was at podcast movement last week and mentioning this concept. Everybody has something that they go through. I was talking about the show, which I focused on creative recovery and about the pod-casters forum and the coaching work that I’m heading into doing as I’m helping people regain their voice. And we’re talking about like heads of companies, we’re talking about people that really have the lives together that are accomplished in media and every single one of them has something that they’re stuck in because that is a fact.

 This one lady said, yeah, I can’t be on stage. She was, I had just been up and I’d emcee and she’s like, I was about to MC and she said, oh, I could never do that.

 I can never go on stage. She had done Toastmasters in any of these things, and none of them had worked for her. And I said, yeah, that’s because it has to do with your nervous system and it’s a trauma response.

 she looked at me and she just laughed. And she said, yeah, It all comes down to that one time in elementary. I was giving a presentation and the teacher he made fun of me and I have never wanted to get in front of people again in my life. There was.

Sometimes we can’t remember why it is that we do the things that we do, but it usually comes down to something that happened when we were young. because it wasn’t something that we needed to survive.

[00:15:56] Thrive not survive

 I love that right now. There’s a lot of conversation finally about like how our brains work, how the nervous system actually works and having conversations about actually working with the nervous system so that we can be able to not just survive, but actually thrive.

And this is why it’s so important to understand traumatic responses. Not because you have had major panic attacks or experienced the terribleness of slapping somebody on stage, but because you’ve experienced things that were challenging in your life and your nervous system said no way, Jose, we’re not experiencing that which has, you know, held you back your entire life.

But there is ways to get through it. If I can get through and move to the other side of what I did. I promise you, you can move through what you want to move through as well.

You are not. Resigned to experience that for the rest of your life. That does not have to be your life. It does not define you.

I’m going to say that again, because it’s really important. Whatever thing that you experience that creates the trauma response in you, that you hate, that just feel so uncomfortable. It does not define you. What happened to you. wasn’t cool. That shouldn’t have happened, whatever it is, even if it’s silly, it shouldn’t have happened.

But I know for a fact that you can move past it. I can’t say that it’s going to be like easy, but the fact is that we do have the power to move past it.

[00:17:50] Outro

I hope the best for will Smith. I hope that he addresses what’s going on with him. I really hope that he wasn’t hitting people because he thinks that’s the right response.

It just isn’t. I hope that he finds ways to work through this so that he is able to thrive. I hope that. We do not define him by this incident. I have a lot of empathy for him because all of us go through things. And it’s really hard when they’re in the public eye. And it’s really hard when

they make you feel as badly as they do.

So I just wanna encourage all of you to have empathy, both for yourself and for others around you. You are a shining, wonderful person and your nervous system it’s been doing its best for you just sometimes it’s not quite doing the best for you. It just thinks it is.

So let’s figure out ways to move past our trauma responses so that we can thrive. And I’m going to be talking more about that on the show.

Thank you all for being here on this episode. It was a tricky one, and I hope that I described things in a way that helps you understand how we can think about trauma in a way that gives us a sense of empathy.

Please understand that there might be more going on to everybody’s story, no matter how extreme, no matter whether it’s as big as well Smith or as small as being embarrassed in front of a classroom. You are valid. Your trauma is valid and you also have the capability to move beyond and regain control of your nervous system.

I’ll see you again next week. I’m going to talk more about why we don’t need to be focusing on our weaknesses and why it’s key to be focusing in on our strengths as a part of our healing process in creative recovery. I’ll see you then.

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