Trauma lives in the Body
“We don't heal in isolation, but in community." S. Kelley Harrell
Trauma can hit even the strongest among us with great force. Of course, physical traumas and injuries are usually visually measure-able and can lead to trauma-related physical pain, but emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can also have a profound effect on the human body.
Emotional trauma can cause long-lasting brain changes that may lead to addiction, depression, and a host of other concerns that can devastate lives if left untreated. When traumatic events occur, it can take a significant amount of time to get over the memories, the emotions, and the feeling of just not being able to feel safe.
Emotional pain and disturbing memories can stay in our body long after a traumatic situation has ended. Author and pioneering researcher on the effects of trauma, Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. has written a book called “The Body Keeps the Score” in which he refers to the unbearable heaviness of remembering and a new focus for recovery using the body as the bridge. Being able to notice visceral sensations is the very foundation of emotional healing.
When something traumatic happens, the brain functions differently. Under normal circumstances, the brain encodes whatever it needs to encode, sends it down the pathway, it is processed, stored or disposed of, and life goes on, memories intact. This is a completely different process under stress.
Our bodies communicate consistently all day long with all kinds of electrical and chemical impulses. These impulses tell our brain and body what to do. “Process this, dump that, pay attention here, this doesn’t need your attention ...” Under normal circumstances, the only messages are the ones that need attention—you are fully present, encoding the information, and it’s not a big deal. Under stress, all of this goes haywire.
“The mind can go either direction under stress—toward positive or toward negative: on or off. Think of it as a spectrum whose extremes are unconsciousness at the negative end and hyperconsciousness at the positive end. The way the mind will lean under stress is strongly influenced by training.” ― Frank Herbert
In a traumatic situation, your “fight or flight” response gets triggered. Your body senses danger and sends out red alert signals in the form of hormones. Your bloodstream is swimming with chemical messengers that tell you to “get out now!” The primary goal under these circumstances isn’t encoding the memory, but getting you to safety. This is the reason that so many trauma victims have gaps in memory: the attention was focused on getting the body to safety. The symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress, and often anxiety itself, are the same signals that the body sends when you are in danger: your heart beats fast and your breathing races to get oxygen to the muscles to run, your body shuts down extra impulses like hunger and needing to use the restroom, your palms sweat, adrenaline fuels your energy so that you can get out- sound familiar? These are normal responses to stress in the short term. The problem is when you get stuck.
What do you know about trauma? You probably know that when bad things happen, some people get stuck there and some people don’t. You also probably know the symptoms like nightmares, feeling on edge, flashbacks, keeping others at a distance or not trusting, never being able to fully relax, etc.
Some people have gotten stuck trying to release this trauma even after years of talking it out. But they are left still with triggers and trauma that they cannot seem to move forward from. Why? Trauma lives in the body and that needs to be addressed.
The pain of trauma is always held in the body and it has a location and a sensation that can be identified. One person might experience chronic neck and back aches from rigidly holding his muscles as a way to contain his tension. Another person may feel a choking sensation in his throat whenever a hint of conflict arises. A third person may feel a cool numbness in her body because she has not completely removed herself from perceiving anything that may approach heightened sensation. It becomes painful just to acknowledge the body and to live in it every day. The body may become the enemy.
Because trauma is stored in the body, treatment to ease trauma must involve the body. Trauma-sensitive yoga practices provide a supportive, self-paced method of gently making choices in relation to the body that is compassionate and subtle—all of the things that were missing during the trauma. Finding a new way to come back home to the safety and security of the body is the basis of the healing process. Studies found that chiropractic adjustments reduced anxiety and depression in treatment of specific brain, spine and nervous system conditions. Mindful meditation practices that involve the body such as body scanning, noting and tracking sensations, grounding to the places where our body comes in contact with other solid surfaces, walking meditation and eating mindfully are all examples of reclaiming a kind connection to our own body. Kind human touch stimulates positive-feeling hormones in the body and starts the relaxation response. For a client with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Massage Therapy eases the long-held stress patterns and helps it to begin to dissolve.
Treatment to ease trauma held in the body:
Dance & Movement
Voice Medicine & Song