What is Trauma?
Trauma is an intense and severe form of stress where your body responds to an event that is a perceived or actual threat of safety, injury or death. Trauma response can be Acute, Delayed or Chronic.
Just like other stress, trauma is a response. Trauma is a physical body phenomenon and not only the complicated mental recall and emotional after effects of something that happened. For example: a car accident is a trauma inducing event. The body initiates a trauma cycle in response to the accident. Trauma is not an event that happens to a person, it is the response to an event.
One of the reasons trauma is so difficult to resolve is because the physical nature of trauma release is not addressed. Psychological therapies without the use of physical body or “somatic” release therapies often leaves a person with unresolved trauma issues. It is important for a person who experiences trauma to have both therapies for the body and the mind in order to return to an optimal flow state.
How do you know if you may be trapped in a trauma loop?
- “I Can’t Think!” It is critical to understand that the front part of the brain that processes what we call “cognitive thought” is not necessary for the trauma response to occur. When a threat happens the brain shifts into a mode that does not require the cognitive “mind” and that portion of the brain gets shut off. This allows the body to act without the interruption of the mind which might get in the way of keeping the body alive.
- “I Can’t Sleep” Bodily senses heighten. The brain and body assess the situation to determine if a threat exists. The tricky part is the body doesn’t know the difference between imagined or actual threats. Basically, whether by bear or by fear a big project due at work, your body is preparing to fight, to run or the freeze up to prepare for death.
- “My Stomach, My Head, My Chest…!” There is an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension and circulation to muscles as the body prepares to respond to a situation, these are physiologically felt. When your body’s intelligence kicks in to take charge it shunts all the blood to your legs and arms to prepare to run away from danger or fight it off. This means that your digestion, sexual functions and many other bodily functions are shut down since they aren’t necessary for survival. If it is judged by your brain that fighting won’t do the trick (can’t hit your boss, right?), it prepares the body to take flight or run away. This can become a habitual coping strategy .
- “It’s All In My Head…” That’s right and guess what your head is attached to? Your BODY. Psycho= (mind) Somatic= (Body)
Your body responds to an event by actively attempting to survive or prepare for death.
- Safety or Death Response- It has three sub stages.
- Fight or Flight– At this point your body is running on autopilot. This is when your body’s intelligence kicks into take charge and gets ready to fight for your life. If it is judged by the brain that fighting won’t do the trick, it prepares the body to take flight or run away. The cognitive mind is still aware for the most part but your body is in the lead position of control. If you ever started swinging punches, running or saying cruel words to your spouse before you even knew why, it is because your body was in fight or flight mode. If there is no way out of the threat by fight or flight, the body will move into “freeze” mode. Any can become habitual coping strategies.
- Freeze – If the brain does not perceive a way out via fight or flight it causes your body to literally freeze up. This is when dissociation for the body occurs. This is when people say they have out of body experiences or “I can’t remember anything” moments.
- Return to Fight or Flight if your body survives after the freeze response, it returns to protection mode before it can discharge the energy of the cycle and normalize, re-entering prepared to fight or run to safety.
Energy Discharge/Recovery- If the body gets to safety with fight or flight, it will move into the final stage and begin to release the built up energy (and hormones) of the trauma cycle and move into recovery. The body will attempt to discharge the energy that was built up during the initial portions of the trauma cycle and then relax. The energy discharge can present as tremors, shaking, crying, laughing, twitching, muscle spasms, coughing, sweating, sighs, elimination, yelling, mumbling, incoherent verbal chatter and so on. We, as human, tend to resist and shut off this phase of the trauma cycle because it has been associated with looking weak, silly or crazy. It can also be a pretty frightening experience to have involuntary things happen to your body so you fight to control it. This is where most trauma cycles do not get to finish. People block themselves from completing the physical recovery by forcing the energy discharge process to stop. People go to therapy for years without ever knowing that they keep recalling the memories of traumatic events without closing the trauma cycle completely or fighting to “be strong”or “mind over matter. You can not mind over matter your body.
What can you do if you believe you are trapped in a trauma loop?
Trauma is the human response to a threat. It is a specific and highly specialized form of stress that protects you. It is a response, not a disease or a condition. It is a physical phenomenon that can become a habitual state and even evolve into a characteristic when prolonged. (Anxiety anyone?) It is often misunderstood to be a psychological disorder which can lead it to being mismanaged.
Both psychological and somatic therapies can help a person to remedy unresolved trauma cycles. Trauma follows a continuum from threat perception, to adrenaline dump, to fight or flight response, to discharge to return to normalcy. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from trauma which we will write more about soon.
Addressing the trauma from a physical standpoint is incredibly important. Knowing when to initiate intervention or outsource for guidance is critical.
Are You Trapped In A Trauma Cycle?
What are you going to do about it?