“Trauma is primarily physiological, it’s something that happens to our bodies first, and then its effects spread to our mind, emotions, spirits. As we resolve our traumas we discover missing parts of our beings, those that make us feel whole and complete" Dr. Peter Levine Psychologist Founder of Somatic Experiencing
What happens when we meet something that we perceive as stressful, scary or threatening?
Every time something happens that we perceive as stressful, scary or threatening – either physical (e.g. a car accident, a fall, surgery) or psychological (e.g. challenging relationships, bullying, abuse) – our body automatically activates what is known as the stress response, which is intended to mobilise us to meet the danger or stressful situation successfully. Our heart rate increases, our breathing speeds up and the blood is directed towards our arms and legs preparing us to fight or flight for survival, while other bodily functions like the digestive system temporarily slow down. Once the stress or danger is removed or successfully met, ideally the body returns back to a state of balance, where all the normal processes that keep us healthy can continue.
What if our body is not able to return to a state of balance?
There are situations in which our body may not be able to return back to a state of balance, such as:
- when the stress is repetitive, prolonged or chronic
- if the threatening incident was overwhelming and could not be processed at the time, ie it was experienced as traumatic, and we went into shock (freeze response).
In this case we may continue to cycle the stress response even after the danger has passed and our body may become stuck in this state for an indefinite period of time.
- Short term we may start developing symptoms like headaches, digestive problems, anxiety, being restless, difficulty sleeping.
- Long term this may lead to both physiological and psychological dysfunctions, including depression, panic attacks, dissociative states, sleeping disorders, chronic pain, immune deficiency, autoimmune states.
Trauma is also about loss of connection
Trauma is also about loss of connection to ourselves, to others, to our bodies, to our families, to the world around us. Our choices become limited as we avoid certain feelings, people, situations and places. The result of this gradual constriction of freedom is the loss of vitality and potential for the fulfillment of our life and dreams.