Break Free: Why NOW is the time to heal your wounds.
The State Of Trauma:
You may have noticed that there’s been a rise in talk around the topic of trauma. It’s so exciting that this conversation has entered the mainstream because it means that more people are open to understanding what trauma really is, how it manifests, and how we can ultimately heal from it.
With that said, so much is still being learned about how trauma impacts our mind, physiology, and spirit, and not all trauma-informed approaches to healing are the same. In an effort to shed some light, I’d love to share what trauma is from my experience and perspective:
What is trauma really?
In the simplest terms, trauma is an unhealed wound.
While many associate it in the context of a single life event, trauma wounds can be the result of events that happen over a period of time.
ACUTE: a car accident; a death; a violent act
NON-ACUTE: neglect; failing to get a job; being bullied; a toxic relationship
It’s less about the “why” or “how” and more about the wounding that occurs.
Why it’s important to address traumas now, even if they happened years ago.
Unhealed traumas impact our ability to be present and well-integrated as a person. They impact our ability to be comfortable with and open to change and novelty, which is why some people stay stuck despite a deep desire to branch out in various aspects of their lives.
If they remain unaddressed, the impacts of our traumas can stay with us for years — even decades. Those impacts tend to show up in the form of unwanted patterns of behavior that we enact in response to the trauma. That behavior is an attempt to protect us from experiencing a similar trauma again, but many times, this fear-based response is misguided and keeps us from growing and having what we want most. The younger we were at the time of the initial wound, the more pervasive the resulting pattern may be.
It’s important to know that this whole occurrence is automatic and out of our control in the sense that we can’t stop it from impacting us by repressing it. Our only recourse is to heal it. In other words, even when we choose to deny or ignore things that happened in our past, those traumas are still living in our consciousness — and our bodies — whether we actively acknowledge them or not. When we say “it’s in the past,” we’re just choosing not to think about it, but it’s still there. Perhaps most difficult is that we keep repeating them until they’re healed.
“As humans, we will all face traumas in our lives. When we take time to properly process, make sense of, and heal them, we give them a proper place in our cosmology. They hold a more empowering context and significance in our story.”
How trauma affects the nervous system:
Every trauma leaves an imprint on your nervous system, which affects your neurology and gene expression. Any experience we have as humans — energetic, physical, spiritual, etc. — there’s always a physiological presence and response. There’s no separation between mind, body, heart, spirit. You can’t affect one without affecting the others.
First, the lower part of your brain (limbic brain) automatically registers the event.
For example: When you move quickly to avoid a knife dropping on your foot, that’s an instinctual fight or flight response. That info is perceived in a non-verbal, non-cognitive way. You don’t have time to think about it, your brain just instinctively assesses the danger and responds instantaneously. It’s looking for what needs to happen for you to survive that event.
When that danger or threat is present, your brain will choose from 4 responses:
Fight (fight off the threat)
Flight (run away/exit the situation)
Freeze (play dead)
Fawn (appease as a means of diffusing the situation)
Is a tiger chasing me? What should I do? The same thing can happen in our relationships. There could be a literal physical threat or a more subtle and nuanced emotional threat.
If at some point, there was a threat to our survival, we’ll employ one of those coping strategies, and we’ll also create a bunch of associations to that event. We’ll make up stories and ascribe meaning or causation. Our body does that as a way to try and register, recognize, and ultimately protect us from that same thing happening in the future.
We survived, but our bodies might still be stuck in that autonomic response because it never went back into the parasympathetic (rest and digest) mode. We’re then in a constant state of stress and anxiety driven by our body’s high cortisol response. Experientially, this might occur like:
“I don’t feel safe in general.”
“I can’t move forward in my life.”
“I can’t connect.”
And then cognitively, we have these highly sensitive alarm systems that get set off, usually inappropriately. The association or trigger could be something visual; a smell; an emotional quality; a body movement.
For example: You get into an intense car accident with a white car. In response, your physiology created an association between white cars and a life threatening event. So, now anytime you pass a white car, your body goes into panic. You may not even know you saw a white car. And, your narrative (whether conscious or unconscious) could be:
Cars are not safe (or even “white” cars are not safe)
I’m not safe to drive
I’m not letting my kids drive
A more nuanced example might be that after a breakup, you unconsciously decide:
All men/women are dysfunctional/not trustworthy
Until you take the time to process and heal, these experiences can become limiting.
Closing the wounds: The only way to heal the nervous system is to do the bottom-up work like somatic experiencing. It’s a way of working with the sensations in the body to complete cycles of trauma responses (like fight or flight), and to uncouple the associations or meanings we make up about those traumas. I’ll share more about this in the next post.
In the meantime, please reach out if you’re interested in learning more and taking the first step toward healing. I’m here to support you. It’s never too late — and the life of peace and joy you envision is worth it. You'll see.