What the mind has forgotten, the body remembers long after.
Have you been in an accident or have experienced another traumatic event recently?
Or, do you commonly experience any of the following symptoms:
- chronic pain and tension
- feeling anxious and hyper-vigilant, or depressed
- not being able to relax
- feeling numb or shut down
- not being able to sleep
- get irritated and stressed with minor triggers
You might be experiencing the accumulation of past traumas or stresses that have not been processed in your nervous system. Any time our survival system gets activated and does not discharge all the way that energy gets trapped in the nervous system and keeps cycling, leading to more sensitivity to the stress response and symptoms like anxiety and hyper-vigilance. You might notice these types of symptoms after an accident or other traumatic event or you might not remember any specific events when that happened – it could have happened a long time ago or you were not even aware that that is what was happening. The fight/flight nervous system response can also get activated with chronic stress.
Body-centered trauma therapy enables your body to integrate traumatic experiences and other stresses in our life and bring regulation and balance back to the nervous system. It employs awareness of body sensations to safely and gradually allow the nervous system to discharge survival energy. It lets the body “catch up” with what happened, since at the time of an incident it was too overwhelming for the nervous system to process . But there does not have to be a particular incident and you don’t have to be able to remember anything in particular in order to work with the activated energy.
It is done in a gentle and safe way, and it is not about re-living the experience, but rather taking little steps to digest it..When the survival energy is discharged, people frequently experience a dramatic reduction in or disappearance of their symptoms, including pain and physical, emotional or mental symptoms.
Recovery from trauma and processing stress is about helping the autonomic nervous system to regulate. The autonomic nervous system consists of the Sympathetic (fight or flight) and Parasympathetic (relax, repair, repose). The sympathetic is the activator and the parasympathetic the de-activator. A healthy nervous system is able to move fluidly between those states to respond to situations at hand.
When our sympathetic nervous system carries a lot of “charge”, meaning non-discharged survival energy, we get stuck in that charged state and cannot easily access the de-activator. Then we live with a deregulated nervous system which can lead to a variety of symptoms (listed below) The social nervous system is also part of the autonomic nervous system, which helps us regulate through connection to others.
It is important to realize that the effect of trauma happens in the nervous system and is not the event”. That means that some people might be “traumatized” by a certain experience that would not be traumatizing to somebody else, because we all have different nervous systems.
When we have experienced something that is interpreted as trauma in our nervous system, we generally react in two different ways: we go into fight or flight or we freeze. The fight or flight response happens completely automatic and is not controlled by our rational thinking. Sometimes we react to events that we “think” should not be a big deal.
The fight or flight response:
Fight or flight is our survival response. It mobilizes an incredible amount of energy in our bodies. It creates the kind of energy where mothers are able to lift a car from their child.
That huge amount of energy is designed to be used up by action, like fighting or running, which then allows it to discharge. Most of the time, when we are in a situation like that, the energy does not discharge completely and then keeps cycling in the nervous system.
It can lead to symptoms like:
- feeling hyper-vigilant, being startled easily
- feeling anxious or depressed
- excessive thinking/worrying
- being unable to relax and slow down and settle down inside oneself
- fast breathing, fast heartbeat
- pain and tension in the body
- reliving a traumatic event over and over
- panic attacks
- attraction to extreme sports and dangerous situations
- hypersensitivity to light or sound or touch
The Freeze response:
When there is a perception during a traumatic event that the fight or flight response will not be successful (we won’t be able to get away, we feel overwhelmed and are not able to fight), then we might resort to the freeze response. This is similar to animals playing dead so the predator will leave them alone. In the freeze response our bodies contract and become more still. But underneath that stillness is the charge of the fight or flight response. It is like having a foot on the gas and another on the break at the same time.
It can lead to symptoms like:
- strong holding and tension in the body
- shallow breath
- slowed down heartbeat
- feeling numb
- feeling disassociated
- parts of the body do not want to move
- depression and anxiety
What if I have trauma-like symptoms and I don’t remember that anything happened to me?
Quite often people have trauma -like symptoms, but cannot link them to a particular event that happened. We might experience events during our childhood as “traumatic” that we can’t remember or have imprints in our nervous system from our own birth. The beauty of this approach is that we can still work with the activated energy, even when we don’t know where it came from, because we are working what shows up in the present in your body and nervous system.
How we work in a session:
Body-centered Trauma Therapy aims at helping the charge that is present in the nervous system to discharge in a way that feels safe and manageable to you. It is not about reliving a traumatic experience and going into a state of overwhelm. The process is tailored to you, going at your own pace and creating safety in a way that works for you. It is centered in the body, working with body sensations and processing directly through the body.
The main goal is for you to develop the ability to become present with the experience in your body. That is done by connecting to body sensations and finding out where and how your body is still holding charge, which can show up as buzzing, tingling, tension, anxiety etc.
Your presence with and feeling of what is happening inside yourself actually allows you to digest, or metabolize the experience.
However, that is not always easy, because after a traumatic experience it might not feel safe for you to feel what is going on in your body. So, the first step is always to establish safety.
We first develop what is called “resource”. Resource is anything that makes you feel safe and comfortable in your body. Then, after establishing safety and connection, we start to touch slowly and gently into any activation that might be present by tracking body sensations. We do that slowly enough so that it feels safe and manageable, staying in touch with the resource at the same time, so you get to take little pieces at a time and digest them.
It is like catching up with everything that happened. Usually a traumatic event is very intense and happens fast. Here, you get to slow down and listen and really hear what your body is telling you about what has not been processed. Through that process often discharge will start to happen, because the safety is there to allow it to happen. Discharge means the body is letting go of the energy that has been stored in the tissues and the nervous system.
It can feel like:
- tingling or streaming sensations
- trembling or shaking
- softening or letting go of tension
- calmness and relaxation
- feeling tired, yawning
- reconnecting to body parts that were feeling disconnected
Once some of the energy has discharged there is usually a noticeable reduction in symptoms.
What does a Trauma Resolution session look like?
I will be guiding your attention to notice different parts of your body or particular sensations.
That can be done sitting in a chair or lying down on the table. I often combine this approach with Craniosacral Therapy, where you would be lying fully clothed on a bodwork table and I might use light touch to make contact with your body. Often, we will spend some time sitting and some time lying down in one session, depending on what works best for you. At the end of a session, many people experience a relief of their symptoms, a sense of coming home to their bodies, deeper relaxation and a general sense of well-being.