Trauma – what’s that?
These days more people speak about trauma. And that’s good. Awareness is building. But really what is trauma? Unresolved trauma alters memory, effects our health, determines our capacity to relate, to cope with stress and much more…
Let’s look into this a little more detailed:
In a nuthsell there is shock trauma: a situation in which too much is happening too fast disrupting our boundaries uncontrollably. That could be anything from a car accident to surgery to an attack etc.
Then there is developmental trauma: an overwhelming experience in early childhood, which could be emotional and/or physical neglect, emotional and/or physical abuse etc. Even during pregnancy or the process of birth developmental trauma can happen and often is paired with shock trauma.
From the moment of conception on cells are being incredibly receptive and early experiences are being stored in implicit memory as well as built into the growing nervous system and brain wiring. May it be the experience of being loved and welcomed or stress and fear of the mother. The nervous system always listens and adapts accordingly. Prior to conscious thought this information is stored in the body as a very subtle layer of sensation that is always there. Read more about that here.
Really there are many categories of trauma, but these are kind of the basics. What they all have in common is intense fear, helplessness, loss of control and at times even threat of death. You can see we are talking intense emotions.
Trauma alters memory. Meaning we don’t remember correctly what happened. In a state of high alert the brian maps anything it perceives as potentially threatening. That serves as a survival instinct, but often leads to confusing flashbacks and an unexplainable mix of fears.
Living with unresolved trauma means the body has lost its capacity
to rhythmically self-regulate.
From agitation to rest, from alert to relaxed, from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic part of nervous system. Much like breathing in and breathing out.
Orienting, resting in the here and now and being a fluent part of life responding appropriately to what life presents is hardly possible as long as that high stress and fear energy is not discharged from the body.
It is crucial to understand that trauma symptoms are NOT caused by the external happening. But develop when excess energy is not discharged from the body after a traumatic experience. This energy is then stored in the nervous system and can have horrendous effects on body and mind.
When the nervous system got stuck in the sympathetic part, trauma symptoms can be: hyperactivity, panic, worrying, racing stream of thoughts, anger, rage, hypervigilance, sleeplessness, chronic pain and others. High fight and flight energies are bound in the body and act like a foot pushed down on the gas pedal…
… while at the same time the brakes are fully put. And that refers to immobilization or freeze reaction caused by extreme high activation trying to calm down the sympathetic reaction. Stuck in the parasympathetic nervous system symptoms would look like: depression, dissociating, low energy, weak immune system, slow reaction, indifference, fatigue and others.
Trauma is a biologically incomplete reaction of the body after a subjectively life threatening event. In the process of healing we want to move from fragmentation to integration, orienting and rooting ourselves in the here and now using resources to support ourselves, allowing time to go small steps for the body to feel save enough to be able to discharge.
The capacity to heal from overwhelming experiences is part of our nature.