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What is Trauma?
Trauma results from any event that overwhelms a person’s capacity to cope. The common theme is helplessness. When our capacity to defend ourselves through fight, flight or freeze is not successful, the unreleased survival energies stay stuck in our nervous system. If we do not release this energy from our nervous system where it is stuck, we develop anxiety and panic and other psychosomatic and behavioural problems.
Trauma field experts like Peter Levine and Bessel van der Kolk concur that trauma is in the body and not in the event. Trauma is locked in the body as incomplete survival responses resulting in a dysregulation in the autonomic nervous system long after the event has ended.
Trauma is more common than we think. It does not have to be big events like war, abuse or accidents but events like bullying, separation can be traumatic especially when it happens to a child. In fact, anything that is ‘too much, too fast and too soon’ has the capacity to overwhelm us is traumatic.
Causes and sources of trauma are:
Abandonment, birth trauma, bonding break with parent, consistent criticism and judgement, experiencing violence, rape, abuse, incest, sexual molestation, accident, bullying, surgery medical and dental, divorce, death of a loved one, war, suicide of a loved one, forced emigration, prolonged illness, torture, accidents and falls, natural disasters or any experience that causes a threat to someone’s life.
In fact, any incident where we feel that we can’t cope, that we going to die or are in danger is traumatic. Our body will go into fight/flight/freeze in order to survive. From developmental trauma to PTSD, trauma severely affects our nervous system, our beliefs and our emotions. When trauma gets stuck in the body for a period of time, symptoms start to show up.
“Traumatic symptoms arise when residual energy from the experience is not discharged from the body. This energy remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds.” Peter Levine
Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, phobias, feeling disconnected and detached, feeling isolated and alone, depression, helplessness, hyper-vigilance, hyperactivity, mood swings, weight gain, insomnia, nightmares, physical pain, chronic fatigue, dissociation, reduced ability to deal with stress, compulsive behaviour.
While many healing modalities treat only the symptoms, it is important to go to the root cause of the issue and complete the trauma for true healing to happen. Most of our traumas happened during childhood, so it is important to go to the very first time the trauma happened in this lifetime.
Adverse childhood experiences can leave a lasting mark. Neglect, abuse, and maltreatment during childhood can all play a role in the development of feelings of worthlessness. Children who are abused or who are frequently criticized by parents or other caregivers may carry those feelings of insignificance into adulthood. Research has shown that these early interpersonal traumas are linked to later feelings of worthlessness.
Inner child work helps us get to the root of the problem—the core wounding —instead of putting a Band-Aid over the pain and hoping it gets better. We push this wounding down deep inside as we try to ignore it, because it is so painful to remember and feel again.
When a child was abused, neglected, hurt, and rejected, and therefore he/she thinks that he/she is a bad person and not worthy of much in life. If we don’t have strong boundaries, we give others the power to create our sense of self-worth and identity, foregoing any sense of self and essentially abandoning ourselves. We begin to carry other people’s woundings, their pain, and their projections as ideas of who we are or should be. We push down and bury our authentic selves in the process, giving up any sense of self-worth, self-love, self-trust, and self- respect.
Do the inner work on your childhood wounds so you don’t pass the trauma to your next generation. Once you see the patterns and themes that keep happening in your life, you will no longer be able to unconsciously repeat them.
How to we heal trauma?
Stephen Porges, author of Polyvagal theory,(See chart below) brings scientific evidence that the symptoms of trauma are biologically established. The Polyvagal Theory is a new understanding of how our nervous system works and explains trauma responses and very essence of social behaviour. He states there are 3 branches of the autonomic nervous system:
Social engagement – Connection, compassion, feeling, self-soothing, love
This knowledge helps us to understand how trauma symptoms manifest as well as how to help to heal them.
Unresolved childhood trauma seeks expression through restless legs, headaches, backaches, clenched jaws, flashbacks, bad dreams, anxious thoughts, and countless other outlets. Using trauma-informed therapy like Tantra that includes mind-body practices supports the healing process. Healing results when the client feels empowered to release the protective armours safely, because the danger feeling that has continued to exist long after the trauma stopped can finally be felt and released.
To heal trauma and come back to social engagement, we need to restore our sense of safety, trust, layers of protection which we have placed, thaw the frozen feelings as well as integrate our disconnected parts. The good news is trauma healing does not always have to be a long and painful process. It does not always require hours of talking therapy, medication, or reliving the traumatic memories.
Childhood trauma can be resolved. If you have experienced trauma, you don’t have to live with it in your body or impacting your daily life forever. There is hope. By finding a trauma-informed therapist and embracing the full scope mind/body healing, you will be guided along the path towards resolving and releasing the trauma and living a life where you no longer feel stuck.