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The Body on Trauma: Part 1

Trauma is part of life. It always has been. Whereas in the past people developed systems like meditation, yoga, community support and used religions, rituals and natural ways of calming the mind, soothing the nervous system and healing the body, we here in the West have developed a complicated system of over-diagnosing, over-medicalising and labelling these deep inner experiences.

There are many kinds of trauma experienced throughout life and sometimes they can lead to disregulation affecting our health at all levels. Most of us are aware of PTSD, where the trauma is a specific incident (eg. natural disaster, war, crime, accident, sexual violence) that poses a risk to life. The person will usually suffer certain symptoms like flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, hyper-sensitivty or hyper-vigilance in certain situations or avoidance behaviours.

There is a separate category of PTSD that many may not be aware of – Complex-PTSD or CPTSD. aceThis is where the trauma is experienced over many years usually starting in early childhood. We now know from  the ACE study that early childhood experiences are highly correlated with the development of serious chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, cancer, chronic pain as well as increased risk of mental health conditions and health-harming behaviours like depression, anxiety, addictions and suicide. CPTSD is often more difficult to diagnose and treat, as the experiences are often of a deeply personal nature spanning years.They are often based on feelings of shame and hence have been held secretly in the persons heart for many years.Often the person doesn’t even realise that thier experiences are classed as Trauma. Early trauma leads to alterations in perceptions of self and perpetrator, disregulation of affective impulses, lack of self-expression and self-trust, alterations in the meaning of life and relationships , loss of any sense of safety and trust. It literally changes the structure of the brain.

cpstdComplex trauma wires the brain for Fear-Based -Living. You can see why this is going to be a long journey of healing. CPTSD is a developmental trauma…at a critical age when we soak in 95 percent of our subconscious, the experienced events almost arrest our development emotionally. For the rest of our lives we are pulled by the dominant fields of our subconscious in both constructive and destructive ways. In order to change the script , we first have to become conscious of it.

jungSometimes we only become conscious of it when it gives us no other choice.Often we manage to fumble our way through our 20s perhaps struggling with relationships or addictions having locked our memories away in a box far away. We think we are doing ok and then BOOM! The box bursts open much later in life. We are suddenly hit with illness, depression or an inability to deal with situations that we were able to before. We can keep ignoring these warnings but soon enough they will be too loud.

At this point nothing else will work other than to deal with it on a deeper emotional level. No more comfort food addictions, retail therapy, over-exercising or whatever self-soothers we used unknowingly in the past will work any longer. The time comes when we have to open the box and just go through it.

 

 What is trauma really?

A wonderful definition of trauma is championed by renowned neurologist and traumatologist Robert Scaer. Trauma is:

Any negative life event that occurs in a position of relative helplessness

When the human brain experiences any event in life with a severe negative consequence in a relative state of helplessness an instinctive process of protection is engaged and neurochemistry is turned on taking the body naturally into the survival stratagies of the FLIGHT FIGHT FREEZE response. These reactions help us survive the event…which is a good thing! But the human brain is excellent at associating many things with the trauma even after it is over. Again a brilliant protective mechanism but this causes the body to re-engage the neurochemistry of trauma over and over again long after (even years) the trauma is extinguished.

Basically living in fight and flight becomes a habit . We live without connection with our soul, that authentic part of our being, as we function more from a survival state, rather than from a state of creativity, hope, imagination and empowerment.

Also, we humans are really rubbish at discharging stress (think of a deer shaking after a stressful run for its life -that shaking is stress discharge). We have a peculiar tendency to personalize everything and blame and judge ourselves and others. We try to handle stressors with logic, when the cause is energetic. We use pacifiers such as drugs,TV,sex,shopping,food. We appear cool, even though anger or fear fills every fibre of our being.

Trauma is in the Body

Trauma is not just experienced in the mind…because the system in charge of sensing danger (Autonomic Nervous System- ANS) is also linked to EVERY SINGLE SYSTEM of the body. So when the ANS engages its sends instructions to every single system to be prepared for critical action for survival. In trauma the ANS is frozen in this survival mode, it cant switch off. In this state the brain drives the body hard – a bit like a racing car- and eventually the body breaks down as this way of living is not sustainable. Here is where we see disease, pain and depression develop.

Traumatic experiences literally become “imprinted” in the emotional body, physical body, energetic body as well as in the conscious and subconscious mind.

Our bodies also hold cellular memory of our trauma, whether it be a specific incident, a childhood experience, in the womb, inter-generational trauma or even passed down through our long gone ancestors.

As Dean Taraborelli said so eloquently,

Trauma affects us holistically and as such,it must be treated through an integrative holistic approach beyond talk centered therapies.

Trauma is in the body…and the body must be part of the therapy to heal fully.An integrative holistic recovery program will include a number of different modalities, and often with a bit of trial and error, to find the right formula at the right time with the right person supporting us.

Some successful techniques are:

  • Somatic experiencing therapies,man doing yoga
  • EMDR,
  • Energy medicine,
  • Myofascial and craniosacral bodywork,
  • Exercise
  • Nature-Immersion
  • Yoga,
  • Meditation,
  • Nutrition,
  • Supplement protocol,
  • Breathwork,
  • Psychotherapy,
  • Functional medicine psychiatry painrumi

As patients it is our responsibity to take our recovery into our own hands. We must go through the difficult journey of healing knowing that no one or no drug can heal, only the self. And as therapists it is our responsibilty to provide the tools, support and compassion to hold a safe space for our patients to discharge trapped energy and bring forth the self-healing ability of the body.

 

In part 2, I will explore some of the daily habits we can cultivate at home to help us deal with the effects of complex trauma.

Please note: I am not a psychiatrist, psychologist or doctor. I am a pharmacist and so have a medical background. But more importantly I am a body-orientated human being. I write this in the experience and experitse of body work that I have been doing, teaching and observing for a decade and my own lived experience of and deep interest in CPTSD . My research is in the work of Pete Walker, Gabor Mate, Peter Levine, Dan Seigal, Bessel Van Der Kalk  and many more genius folk!

2 Responses so far.

  1. Sobhia Farooq says:

    This is useful to read about, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about childhood issues/trauma affecting us more the older we get. As a teenager/young adult we just block / ignore our problems but they become more apparent as we get older. If we don’t address these issues we will likely affect those around us negatively and even our children (if we have). Thanks for this Afsha, look forward to part 2 x