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WHAT IS TRAUMA?
Recognizing its signals,
and our responsibility to prevent its future repetition.
(Document in progress - to be revised and completed)
Trauma is the result of an overwhelming event which occasionates the dysregulation of the nervous system. The extent to which a person is affected does not depend on the magnitude of the traumatic event itself, but on the capacity to self-regulate of the nervous system, which is called resilience. The same event may present no problem for a person, yet it may be completely overwhelming for another one.
Resilience: the capacity for self-regulation.
A healthy nervous system is capable of going through normal cycles of activation and relaxation in face of life's normal challenges. This capacity develops and strengthens from birth on, and appropriate care from parents or primary carers is essential for its maturation during childhood. The earlier a potentially overwhelming event happens in the development of a person, the higher are the chances of it leaving sequels and undermining the natural maturation of the nervous system.
Exposure to manageable degrees of stress and its successful resolution strengthen resilience. During childhood, parents or primary carers are responsible for regulating the amount of stress a child is confronted with. A healthy adult, in normal circumstances, is able to recognize the limits of stress she exposes herself to, and the amount and quality of rest needed in everyday life to keep her natural cycles functioning.
Factors that undermine resilience are: previous traumatic experiences, inadequate or poor social network, stressful lifestyle [lack of SPACE], including poor or bad quality of nourishment, environmental stress, etc.
In general, we can say that any symptom, physical or mental, is due to a past trauma. Tracing the origins of a symptom is, in general, not a linear process. Symptoms of trauma can develop long time after the original event happened. Even a minor overwhelming event may trigger earlier event(s) which we may, in large part, not be aware of.
We may be conscious of some of the threats we underwent in our own life, yet we generally have no conscious memory of events which happened in our early childhood or around our birth, when we were most vulnerable. We are also generally not aware of the huge impact that trauma lived by our ancestors, our peers, or the culture we live in has in ourselves.
Once we start to see symptoms not as something to get rid of, but as indicators of a previous trauma that needs to be resolved, we are in our way to regain our health and strengthen our resilience.
Trauma prevention: The importance of recognizing symptoms of traumatic activation
There are many ways, stages, and possible combinations how traumatic energy may be stored in our body. When we do not have enough resources to channel this energy in a positive way, our brains simply erase our awareness from these uncomfortable places, so we may be physically frozen or numb in certain areas, or psychologically unaware of certain blind spots.
When a present event resembles, even partially, an original events that occasioned a trauma, our system may react in the form of nervous activation. Recognizing early signs of activation is key to prevent trauma and re-traumatization. The recognition of this signs is also important since this reactivation shows us a thread to look into, offering the possibility to heal the issue at its root.
Signs of traumatic activation may include:
Being over irritable, anxious, sleepy, or disconnected.
Fast heart beat
Difficulties to breath
Stomach, throat or any part of the body tightening
Excessive or obsessive thinking
Feeling numb or “frozen”
Trauma first aid
If you are facing a challenging event, and/or your nervous system is being triggered in the memory of previous trauma, these are some basic guidelines that may help in the very moment or in the immediate aftermaths:
Look for a safe space.
Do not isolate yourself. Seek the help or company from people you trust and, with time, look for a skilled trauma therapist.
Allow you nervous system to discharge the stress by:
- crying or laughing
The body has a natural way of recovering balance, if we allow it to do whatever it needs to do. We may go through hot flushes, stomach gurgling, deep breaths. It is important to recognize that all these are good bodily responses that help us discharge the activation.
Do not allow yourself to be caught by excessive thinking
Stay “grounded”, by feeling your feet, your legs, having a calm walk in nature, or doing any gentle and safe physical activity.
Self replicating nature of trauma
Whether we are conscious of them or not, unresolved personal, transgenerational, or collective traumas have an ongoing effect on us. When an external energy entered our system via an overwhelming event, it needs to find an exit. When we are not able to digest this event immediately after, remnants of the energy stays trapped in the body (or collective consciousness) and its effects may vary from chronic activation of the nervous system, to majors symptoms. Scientists have proven now that even the effects of transgenerational trauma are transmitted genetically. This base activation may be like a volcano which may not show obvious exterior effects but, at certain point may erupt inadvertently. Past traumas act like magnets that tend to re-create its original setting. There is a lot of data collected by trauma experts about the fact that original traumatic situations tend to replicate themselves.
Our natural healing capacities can never be overestimated. We can learn about the self healing quality of life by observing how animals in the wild, even when subject to repeated life threats, in general, do not present post-traumatic stress symptoms. When not taken from the environment where they belong to, and where they can move freely, animals quickly recover from a threat by shaking their bodies and allowing their nervous system to discharge the activation originated by the threat.
We, human beings, on the other hand, have many strategies in which we interfere with our physical healing mechanisms, due to our evolved rational thinking, memory, and cultural conditioning. But, as evolution goes on, we are also starting to understand how to reclaim our body intelligence and healing capacities.
Meeting the needs at their own level
On the last decades many psycho somatic approaches have been developed in the understanding that trauma needs to be addressed at the level it is installed. In order for natural and full healing to happen, we need to take in consideration the totality of our human experience: sensations, images, behaviors, emotions and thoughts. When we undergo an existential threat, the older parts of our nervous system, our reptilian and limbic brains, get activated and, if we don’t give them the possibility of releasing the extra energy, they will remain activated, no matter how much positive thinking or rational analysis we may undergo. Even spiritual practices and meditation may not provide access to these places which, in general need a specific relational container or specific support and orientation to unlock the frozen energies. A skilled trauma therapist, nowadays will establish a relation to the unspoken traumatic memories and invite a gentle discharge, layer by layer, of the stress and emotional charge associated with them.
Trauma is not only held in our physical bodies. It is also held in our cultural agreements and patterns. The replicating nature of trauma also applies for our collective wounds. Given this current knowledge we can’t deny our responsibility to listen to our physical or social symptoms, signals of unresolved personal or collective traumas before they manifest as a new war or any new traumatic situation.
The global challenges we are facing nowadays are also calling us to wake up to a new level of managing our decisions. As old structures reveal its obsolescence to meet problems such as massive migration and global warming, we need to awake to the fact that humanity can’t solve these from our current fragmented place. It becomes more and more evident that we need to generate a higher level of coherence.
The comprehensions and the tools we have been developing in the last decades for personal trauma healing can be applied to heal humanity as a whole. Learning together to recognize and heal our cultural wounds is something that is very much in our hands when we create networks and make good use of the many resources we already have.
DOCUMENT IN PROGRESS - By Giselle Charbonnier
With the development of cognitive and behavioral therapies in the last century, we have done great progress in understanding certain aspects of our humanity. Yet, trying to address traumas which have a strong somatic base with cognitive tools is not only impossible, but also potentially retraumatising. When clients are exposed to going through their issues over and over without a somatic discharge, this may lead to greater frustration both for the client and the therapist. Behavioral therapies may help the person to socially function but this not necessarily means that their problems are solved, and this may lead to further covering them. Other strategies that have been available for humanity since ancient times, was turning towards spirituality through devotion, mystical studies, or rituals, involving more or less personal introspection or meditation. Yet true shadow work has been mainly absent from most religions. Therefore spirituality many times bypassed deep unitegrated issues, which showed, for example, in spiritual leaders having a double moral or committing serious abuse.
Nowadays it becomes more and more common the understanding that we need to address the issues in the level that they were generated. Cognitive therapy may be very useful for reframing a traumatic situation, or making professional decisions, yet, a trauma occasionated by a natural disaster or an early childhood shock, cannot be solved without addressing the underlying dysregulation of the nervous system and establishing an emotional bridge with the unmet emotional needs. Likewise, we understand the value of behavioral practices, not for direct healing, but for stabilization and reestablishing a healthy lifestyle during or after deep issues have been addressed on their somatic and emotional level.
The appropriate container
The confiusion between waking up and growing up.
WORKING FROM THE PERIPHERY TO THE CENTER
When we work for the restoration of the nervous system and resilience, the fact that we don’t know the (often complex) origin of our stress does not impede the beginning and progress of our healing process.
As a resume, the goal for personal trauma integration, and the main qualities needed for working with trauma survivors, are inner coherence between mental, emotional and physical levels and the possibility of fine tuning with other human beings.
REFINEMENT OF PERCEPTION
Meeting in the same level that the disregulation is.
Bypassing. Mixing levels
Trauma and spirituality
By Giselle Charbonnier