By Lisa Meuser.
Although trauma is becoming more talked about in everyday circles, sometimes it is still thought of as something that only “really unfortunate” people experience. You know, those people. But the truth is we’ve all experienced it in varying degrees.
I love how Gabor Mate approaches trauma: it’s not the event, he explains, it’s how we responded to the event that makes something traumatic. In some ways it may be overly simplistic, but it follows my own experience and what I see play out with my clients time and time again.
When we find ourselves in a state of overwhelm, it usually means we’re having some kind of experience of fear or a fight, flight or freeze response. When we don’t know how to process that overwhelm (as no infant, child, or young person does) and don’t have others around to support us in our experience of overwhelm (as many of us didn’t), we are left with no other option but to separate from the overwhelm (or biochemical response) that is happening in our body. In other words our bodies feel unsafe, so we go to a place that feels safe – our minds.
This explains why many of us don’t feel safe in our bodies (and why some of us seem to live in the hamster wheel that is our mind) – because, quite simply, at some point in our lives we weren’t safe. Without the support we needed to help us process what we were experiencing, we felt too much- our little bodies weren’t able to handle the amount of stimulation. In that moment we split off from our bodies and went into our thoughts – we went mental. We lost touch with our whole selves, our true nature, our essence. This splitting off from ourselves, this dissociation, was our only option so it was completely innocent. And yet at the same time, it was, in and of itself, traumatic.
We can’t avoid feeling overwhelmed at times. We can’t avoid having fear responses, or experiencing fight, flight or freeze at times. We’re loaded with sense receptors in every cell of our being which means we feel a lot. And we’re supposed to – we’re designed to! But we’re also designed to release and recover from such responses just like an animal is designed to release and recover. Have you ever seen a bird fly into a window? It will lie there stunned for a while in a state of overwhelm, then sit up, start to shake (release the biochemical) and eventually fly off. In other words, it follows its instincts to release and recover.
Human beings are born with the ability to feel and to release feelings, but through a lack of support and healthy modelling we have closed these innate parts of ourselves down. Instead we are often taught to override instincts and, additionally, aren’t supported by our caregivers in expressing or feeling overwhelm (and sometimes it’s our caregivers who lead us to feel overwhelmed in the first place), so the biochemical response energy stays in the body as opposed to being processed and released. This makes the body seem even unfriendlier as more and more trauma gets stored instead of processed.
The good news is that as adults we now have the ability and capacity to relearn how to safely feel into our bodies and we can safely relearn how to release trauma, emotions and beliefs that have been stored in our bodies. We can learn to reconnect, and our nervous systems can learn that it’s ok to feel and connect with experiences. There is another way than just living “in our heads.”
Relearning how to safely feel and release can take time. It entails getting to know ourselves. And it involves slowly meeting our direct experiences in ways that our nervous systems get to deeply know that it is indeed safe to feel. Connecting with resources or a skilled somatic therapist/facilitator can assist in discovering that is safe to connect inwardly.
In the meantime, the invitation is to be patient, kind and compassionate with ourselves as we become more deeply intimate with our experiences. And remember; we’re always doing the best we can with the resources we have in the circumstances we’re experiencing.
I write a lot about embodiment, trauma, self care, and getting to know yourself. You can access my blog through my web site: www.integrativehealingnow.com. There are also many audio, visual and written pieces here on the Living Inquiry web site at http://www.livinginquiries.com/resources/. You will find free demos of the inquiries, self-facilitations, facilitated rests, and more. Please contact me if you have other questions, or would like additional support! For those of you who are more visual, here’s a YouTube where I talk about trauma, with a brief experiential component: https://www.youtube.com/edit?o=U&video_id=x6Uy28ij5fQ Enjoy!