An event becomes traumatic when it overwhelms the brain’s capacity to cope. We cannot help but feel what we are hardwired to feel. Trauma can present in many ways, and cultural context greatly affects expression. Trauma is not who we are, it is a story that happened to us in the past. Fear of reliving the event in its loneliness is the root of trauma, as the brain cannot tell the difference between now and then. The original event alters the reward system in the brain, and the tragedy of trauma is the imprint left behind where the body reexperiences the event as if it were happening again. You must know where you are to know where you are going, and must feel fully alive in the present and able to experience the self to overcome the imprints of trauma.
If you are living with trauma, you likely struggle to feel at peace inside your body. It can feel unbearable when upsetting memories and all the senses flood your body. To be somebody with a core identity you must first have a body and have the ability to feel yourself. You must be able to tolerate feeling your body to understand what you feel. You must understand what you feel to make internal healing change. You must make internal healing change to love your body and stop doing things such as self-harm through food, alcohol, or cutting.
You must be able to accurately read yourself before you can accurately read or care for another, or meet them with their dysregulation, such as your child.
Not being able to tolerate feeling inside your body all of the time is why many people with trauma struggle with meditation, as the very act is asking you to notice and tolerate a noisy, distant, or foreign body. This also explains why Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) is not as effective as other therapies for trauma because you can’t tell yourself to do something that you can’t do!
When acute trauma, a one-time event happens, a somatic imprint issue occurs. Sensations, sounds, and images of the trauma surface, are easily triggered and cannot update with new information.
Not all, but many people who live with trauma also experienced some form of development trauma, where their needs were not met or something happened to them as a child. Why this happens is not entirely known, but research has shown that someone is at higher risk of becoming traumatized depending on the temperament they were born with, what age they experienced the trauma, and how often the trauma occurred.
Every child needs at least one person to make them feel special. Feeling listened to and understood changes physiology. The quality of feeling seen, heard, and valued for who they are is key. Children rely on caregivers to act as a mirror, so they can learn about what they feel inside, who they are, and how to predict the other. Even a 5-hour old baby will give and receive information of their environment by mimicking funny faces! When a toddler explores, they are working on their instinct of purpose, they are figuring out the world and where they fit. Brain organization is affected differently depending on developmental ages and stages and when traumatic events happen to or around a child the feedback loop is interrupted.
Childhood trauma interferes with identity, the instinct of purpose, and the ability to connect the past to the present to the future. Relational and somatic imprint issues have occurred. Without intervention this can potentially cause lifelong mis-wiring in the brain, affecting the stories they tell themselves about themselves throughout life.
Knowing an event is over is useless if someone cannot hold a sense of time. While an adult can walk away or reach for a drink as an escape, a child does not have the same freedoms. If reaching out to a caregiver for a sense of safety fails, children tend to control what is within their reach; cutting, head banging, food restriction or excess, or simply disconnecting from the world. A sense of time and predicting the future is very important for trauma healing. In addition to therapy, children can often benefit from occupational therapy services, as well as other activities that involve cause and effect such as pair dancing, skating, martial arts, and tennis.
The ability to know yourself and what you feel in your body is called Interoception. Reading the environment and another person is called Neuroception. Interoceptive pathways are needed to self sooth, a very important part of trauma healing! Therapies such as parts work, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) address the relational and somatic imprint issues and help improve interoception. The heart, lungs, brain, and gut are interconnected. Simply focusing on a long out-breath calms the entire system, or noticing slight messages from the body builds knowledge and resilience. When parts become time oriented and you can feel your body in the present, your system will shift into a more equalized state of calm and focus. The brain starts talking and connecting, sensory imprints disappear, and traumatic events are experienced as a distant story in the past.
Clients do not need to have a trauma diagnosis to benefit from EMDR. Trauma is subjective meaning, you can experience trauma without falling under a diagnosable label. In fact, many therapists believe we've all experienced trauma at some point and it is the individual experience and the loneliness in that experience that defines trauma, not the type of event. Some examples are if a child fell and no one was there to scoop them up and say it was going to be okay, being bullied by other children or family members, or never feeling allowed to have personal needs.
WHAT ELSE CAN A CLIENT DO TO HELP WITH TRAUMA?
Psychedelic Assisted Therapy
Cause and effect sports
SSRI Prescribed by your Doctor
Research is showing that psychedelic assisted therapy can be very helpful with clients living with trauma, allowing them to expand their awareness of reality so they are no longer stuck in a frozen reality.
There are also studies that show that hypnosis can offer fast and deep trauma therapy.
Research on Neurofeedback is limited but extremely promising with results showing more progress than any therapy or drug. Neurofeedback is not considered trauma therapy at this time but is very effective as it regulates and reorganizes the brain in the exact areas needed to help with affect regulation, dissociation, identity and abandonment issues, susceptibility to influence, and future planning. Self-regulation teachings and neurofeedback would benefit children in every school. If used appropriately, neurofeedback could literally change the world!
Yoga has also been shown to be more helpful than any medication, as it encourages new connections within the body through a relationship with the self. Yoga also regulates Heart Rate Variability (HRV), reducing anxiety and depression.
I do not offer any of these therapies at this time however, it is my hope to add yoga and neurofeedback to my practice in the future.
When trauma is lurking, the threat detective is in overdrive. Research has shown that there is a correlation with low serotonin and an overactive threat detective. Medications such as SSRI’s can help turn down the volume of the threat detective hijacking, but they do not address the root purpose of the threat detective. The physical helplessness is unchanged however, when prescribed by a doctor, serotonin medications can help the brain start to think more clearly. When someone is no longer hijacked and have more capacity to expand thinking, they can notice and learn what they are feeling inside their body, assisting with the therapy process.