There is much talk about trauma these days. Life-altering or violent events aren’t required for it to occur. We often associate trauma with soldiers who experience the violence and intensity of war and come home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Trauma can, however, be caused by everyday experiences such as a medical procedure, a bicycle accident, or a divorce.
Trauma can subconsciously freeze us in the event and profoundly distort our sense of reality. We may develop symptoms which have a delayed onset and so we don’t recognize them as being produced by the trauma. The mysterious and confounding fibromyalgia, chronic pain, addiction, and obsessive "looping" thoughts can be connected to unhealed traumas.
Those who chide: ”Your symptoms are all in your head,” are not keeping up with the science. Our bodies and minds are intrinsically linked.
Humans, unlike wild animals, sometimes interrupt or override our innate ability to process a traumatic experience. It seems our cerebral cortex can intervene, and we can shut things down midway. Animals have an instinctual ability to discharge the neuromuscular build-up of energy caused by an event such as a near miss with a predator. It can be seen in animals twitching, shaking it off, or pronking (the long jumps a deer makes after being chased and escaping). The stored energy from overriding the natural response to trauma in a human might contribute to a “self-perpetuating circuitry” (Somaticexperiencing.dk) which creates the symptoms of trauma.
Body-mind connection research is providing valuable insights and opportunities to address the many symptoms of trauma.
Physical symptoms can include headaches, muscle tension, digestive issues, and constricted breathing. Emotional symptoms can include anxiety, overwhelm, shame, and fear. Psychological symptoms include mental rumination, negative self-talk, and depression. Social symptoms include isolation, loneliness, and relational reenactments
Dr. Peter Levine states: “an implicit assumption made in conventional psychological understanding and treatment is that people are able to talk about their traumas … [but] methods that rely on ‘the talking cure’ are often of limited value.“
Somatic (body-based) approaches to healing trauma are proving highly effective. They involve establishing a sense of a safe place for the patient, then accessing body awareness. Tuning in to subtle body sensations often referred to as the "felt sense," may extinguish the traumatic link through a physical discharge such as tears, twitches, flushes of heat, or even yawns.
Often the very postures our bodies are in during a traumatic event can be a link to the trauma and its symptoms.
For example, a coach positioned herself to break up a physical fight between teams and was pushed backwards, jamming her leg and back. She overrode a strong desire to physically lash back. In the months that followed she experienced pain in those parts of her body. When she participated in somatic therapy, her release of that suppressed response came through twitching and some heat in these areas and a freeing from the myofascial pain and stiffness in her legs and back.
Dr. Levine says: “Trauma is a fact of life. It does not have to be a life sentence.“ Somatic healing offers people a chance to become free of trauma’s unpleasant and even paralyzing impacts. There are a number of somatic therapies available, including Hakomi, somatic experience, self-regulation therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. This is a rapidly expanding field, and it will be quite easy to find a somatic therapist near you.
Jill Cunningham grew up in St. Albert, has a bachelor of education from University of Alberta and is passionate about nature, the environment, and building community.