Trauma is the result of experiencing terrifying and life-threatening events. If you have felt inescapable shock, as Dr. Bessel van der Kolk tells us, your system becomes overwhelmed and breaks down. You will not store the trauma in the way memory is normally stored. This can make sharing the experience difficult, and of course, it can be emotionally charged. Past trauma may have caused you to dissociate and lose access to your feelings and your body. As a result, you may not remember much. Alternately, you may remember fine details of the traumatic event, even if it occurred decades ago.
Trauma can cause odd symptoms in the body. You may have chronic pain or recurring dreams. You might have unexplained or irrational fears of seemingly non-frightening things.
How do we work with Trauma?
All of the symptoms of trauma present the pathway of how to work with it. Even in dire situations, the wisdom of the body is still at work. Trying to save you from feeling, you may have some or all of your emotions turned down or off, even though the trauma has passed this state of non-feeling will continue. In trauma therapy, we work to help update your body so you can move ahead in life as a balanced individual.
Some survivors of trauma, Carolyn Braddock reminds us, were told never to speak about the trauma. This may appear in symptoms like sore throats, chronic bronchitis, and other respiratory ailments which stifle the voice. This does not mean every sore throat indicates trauma but it is a specific example of how the body’s attempt to save us also may impede us.
The Missing Piece
Trauma work involves somatic (body) wisdom, talking and sharing what feels safe to share, and noticing patterns in feelings or emotions. One of the issues about trauma is that there was no rescuer present at the time of the traumatic event. Whether we were children or older, we did not get the help we needed. There was something missing. With trauma work, we bring in that missing piece.
We slowly and gently follow the body.
A client with a childhood of abuse and neglect found the act of physically reaching their arms out, as if to be held, was emotionally overwhelming. This lifelong fear of reaching out caused muscle and fascia tension in their hands, arms, neck, and spine. It also created difficulties in relationships and self-value. This client was very fearful of being hurt and abandoned by anyone they loved.
In trauma work, using the action of reaching the arms out and slowly tracking the emotion and memory which arose gave this client a profound understanding of their childhood neglect and how it interrupted their ability to create relationships. The need for safety and love is within all children. When clients allowed themselves to feel the need for love while at the same time feeling the fear of neglect, they began to integrate their childhood trauma. They created a new way to live.
All humans have a unique ability to get past a traumatic event and continue on with living.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and underlying issues like depression, anxiety, ADHD, stress, and unexplained body pain are unresolved trauma. We will bury painful memories, yet, over time the stress on our body and mind becomes overwhelming. Our lives may fall apart, our relationships suffer, and our ability to keep on going lessens dramatically.
Untreated trauma can impact us in many ways. It radically alters how we relate to others, the world, and to ourselves. It can devastate our lives, our bodies, and our spirit.
But it is not forever. We can integrate trauma. We can live without the pain of past trauma.