Traumatic events can happen at any age and can cause long-lasting harm. Although there are several studies that tend to show that certain vulnerability factors (individual and environmental) could have an impact on the increased probability of being exposed to certain types of trauma, all of us can, at one time or another in our life, become a victim/survivor of a traumatic situation.
Another important thing to say is that humans do not react the same way at all when exposed to a traumatic situation/event. Everyone has a different reaction in terms of the response and absorption of the traumatic event. It mostly depends on the inner and outer ressources and, as we are going to see in a moment, of the ability to complete (or not) the cycle of the stress response at the moment of the exposition. Some people might come out unscathed from such a situation, some might notice quickly the afterwards effects and, for some, it might take a long time before they noticed that the traumatic exposition
However, all traumas imprint directly into the bodily memory, more specifically, in the nervous system (which we now know has a huge impact on other systems too). While normal events can activate our nervous system for a short period of time before coming back to normal ((aka a normal stress response to a normal stressful situation which is followed by a normal “coming back to normal” #normal LOL) trauma just keeps the nervous system « on guard » for a much much longer period.
In other words, trauma keeps us stuck in the past because trauma happens when there is no completion of the stress response coming back to normal.
Take a moment to imagine yourself at the end of a roller-coaster ascent, at this particular and brief moment when you hear the “TIC” which signals the descent. Imagine those tiny seconds just after that, maybe arms up screaming, with the little (or big) retching, the palpitations, the excitement, the fear, all of those pretty crazy intense feelings that an intense experience can bring... Well, imagine that you remain "stuck'' in this condition, way up high in your nervous system, even months after setting foot on the ground… this is what we call Trauma.
Now take a moment to imagine yourself on a beautiful autumn morning by the lake, wanting to enjoy what might be the last swim of the year, the water getting colder and colder everyday. Imagine that you are standing on the deck, ready to jump. Can you recall what we all felt at least once in our life : this little nervousness that makes us count in our head because we are "frozen" and "not game" to jump. There is something inside of us that wants to jump, but our body does not follow. In a normal situation, there is a completion : or you jump or you don’t and maybe just sit on the deck and enjoy only your toes dabbling on the water. Well, imagine that you remain "stuck'' just before completion, in this “frozen” condition, at this particular moment where there isn’t any connection between your mind and your body… this is what we also call Trauma.
As trauma keeps us stuck in the past, it directly affects our ability to be in the “here and now” and most importantly, implicit memories, visceral memories, can pop up at any moment and they really can be running the show. It can lead us to over react or to shut down. It can lead us to believe and react in a fight/flight/freeze response as if a real danger was threatening our integrity, when however, everything is just fine.
But for someone living with PTSD, everything is not “just fine”. Because somewhere along the way the nervous system has kept us alive with a specific reaction, it kinda registered that if this reaction has worked once, it might work over and over again. So this reaction also becomes our “intuitive” way of responding to mostly everything that happens in our life, threatening or not. It becomes a habit, something that just happens, without us even noticing it. The survival mode is on, always ready to save our life, always ready to jump, scream, run, fight or freeze.
And again, this is all because there has not been any completion of the cycle of the stress response + relaxation response that normally happens when there are resources in and around the person affected. I'll talk more about it in another post.
Conclusion, trauma keeps us stuck in the past. Or, more precisely, it keeps our nervous system stuck in the past, in this activation or deactivation that once saved our life.
So, what is trauma healing ?
Trauma healing is all about coming back to the “here and now”. Re-taming and re-owning our life and our nervous system in the present moment. It is all about acknowledging and normalizing everything we had to put up front in order to survive and in order to make our way into this healing process. It’s also acknowledging and taking care of all feelings and emotions that can arise during the process as guides and precious indications of what we have to observe in order to heal in a deeper and durable way. It is also about acknowledging, reviving and developing our inner resources and resiliency so we can arrive, gently and compassionately, here and now, in our body, in our mind, in our history, in our life.
We heal by arriving back to ourselves.
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