Trauma is dysregulation in the body system and as Bessel A. van der kolk says in The Body keeps the Score: Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma, “it keeps us dumbfounded, and the path out of it is paved with words, carefully assembled, piece by piece, until the whole story can be revealed.”
“Trauma stops us in our tracks, breaks us, interrupts our freedom and makes us believe we are wrong or faulty so recovering from trauma is something to do in a therapeutic relationship where you can learn how to feel what you need to in order to heal, to feel in a way that makes sense and is manageable to you and leads to the releasing of the stress responses that keep us stuck or in a shutdown”.
There are different traumas, for example, single incident traumas, repeated traumas like domestic abuse, violence and rape; developmental traumas, going to the dentist traumas; complex traumas where multiple traumatic and invasive events interpersonally have happened.
Trapped Trauma can result in the following:
- Chronic pain
- Breathing disorders
- Inability to think clearly
- Sensitivity to sound and light
- Panic attacks
- Feeling spacey
- Memory loss
- Unexplained pain
Dr Levine’s Plan
I recently shared the beginning stages of Dr Peter Levine’s work with Trauma and wanted to continue with that here. I am sharing these stages as it helps me to work with them in my process, work, and practice.
The fourth stage of Dr Levine’s plan carefully touches a small drop of survival-based arousal around the traumatic event.
This process is called titration and increases organization, resilience and stabilization.
So from an environment of safety (step one) to exploration and acceptance of sensation; moving between resistance and acceptance (step two) through to pendulation, i.e. experiencing the rhythm of change, moving out of discomfort to an island of OKness for containment (step three) tiny and controlled movements start to integrate the experience. So, for example, opening my chest and noticing a feeling of vulnerability, then take care of that vulnerability through slow opening movements, tiny opening movements in concert with the feeling of it, and coming back into stillness in my body. Then, opening my chest and feeling the fear as it shows itself as well as the vulnerability; noticing how I might move another part of my body to almost help with the immensity of the feeling – or stop and look for guidance or reassurance from my therapist, this survival based arousal (step four) which is different to the vulnerability.
Step five provides a corrective experience where passive responses become empowered defensive ones.
Step six is untangling the fear response from the repetitive biological immobility response.
Step seven is to resolve hyper-arousal states through careful discharge to free and support higher-level brain functioning – shaking and trembling or the completion of the original movement, e.g. running away or fighting
Step eight is self-regulation to restore relaxed alertness
Step nine is being in the here and now and re-establishing healthy relationships
So, a corrective experience (step five) could be an indirect tranquil ‘No’ where floppy hands attempt to show a pushing away, becoming a natural embodied sure movement of hands saying ‘No’—finding where the fear response is (step six) as separate to the immobility response. For example, this incident scared me; today, I freeze and also hyperventilate when I get scared, but I look for safety, and in my body, I notice (step seven) my belly and chest moving as I am breathing. Alternatively, if my legs are jitterily allowing them to complete the movement they are trying to do, perhaps it is to jump up and run. (Step eight) regulating myself, being alert and awake, all in a relaxed manner. I am reorienting to the here and now (step nine) and those healthy relationships in your life.
Breathing is essential to recovery from Trauma; breathing that is restorative and in harmony with the rest and restore parasympathetic nervous system.
Breathing high into the chest, in a hypervigilant state, is with sympathetic nervous system arousal, and in this, the person does not feel safe. Similarly, breathing very shallowly can indicate shutdown, dissociation and immobility.
In order to begin to heal, we need to breathe into our hearts and bodies, incorporating safe others. Frequently a therapy session can be spent just breathing simply because this is what is needed. The body needs to re-learn safety in breathing so it can stop feeling unsafe and be on alert all the time
It is not rocket science. It is the most natural thing in the world, but this most natural thing has been hurt, and so that is why this is a reminder to breathe with awareness of the air coming in as if you are watching it travel into your heart and top of the stomach and then slowly out again.
Something wise to think about today
It is vital to approach Trauma with compassion – to go toward the Trauma with a therapist; in a therapeutic relationship:
- We come back to resourcing
- Safety in here and now
- Safety in the body
- Remembering a safe person who was a loving presence in your life
- Grounding into legs and feet