By Lynn Fraser.
Unhealed trauma is stored in the tissues of our body. Traumatic experiences are either processed completely or partially or perhaps hardly at all. They cause a disconnect from ourselves and the present moment. This “leaving the scene” is part of our defense system, our survival mechanism.
People who have safe connections with others and within themselves are able to feel and be present with their experience. They attend to the memories, thoughts, images, words, feelings and energy in their body. To the extent we are able to do that, the energy moves through. If we are attacked and are able to run, that will discharge some of the energy. If we are attacked and freeze or are held down, that burst of energy of the flight mechanism is unable to discharge. The effect is similar if there is a literal attack and holding or if it is due to threat and power, like a child who knows they can’t tell on the adult harming them.
We can’t afford to feel it – that fear in the moment of attack or the chronic fear and anxiety from long-term abuse or neglect. The original traumatic experience felt life-threatening. That is why our system protected us from feeling it. The next step is to be sure it never comes up again. That we never feel that threat and terror again. This is the foundation of chronic anxiety and a host of addictions from substance use to shopping, from gambling to overwork. We are driven to avoid the feelings and to comfort ourselves as best we can.
We are never really successful at fooling ourselves. We know it is there through energy and sensation. The visual images are stored in our brain. We go through life being triggered by everything from rude drivers to a bully at work to “that look” on someone’s face. People with unresolved trauma have a skewed perception of threat, danger and safety.
We are an evidence-based system.
Our brains and nervous system develop according to our experience in life. We experience the frustration of knowing in our cognitive brain that there is nothing to be afraid of yet being unable to calm our anxiety when we wake up with a racing mind at 3am.
The answer is to know in our direct experience that we are safe. How do we do that? We find a way to attend to and be present with all the energy in our body.
This is what we do in the Living Inquiries. We look at the words and pictures that are associated with the energy and sensations in our body. As we see (in our direct experience) that these thoughts are not threatening, we pay attention now to energy and sensation. Thoughts will come up. We look at them and perhaps tap or trace if they are intense. Go back to the sensation. We welcome everything. We want it to reveal why it is here, what it wants us to know.
This is the key to freedom. We reach a tipping point where we no longer fear our own body and mind. We welcome everything because we know it is all part of us. It is what we were unable to process with our child’s brain development and position of needing protection. We are adults now. We have and can build resilience and resources. We welcome and we heal. We become free from being triggered. Free from dread and chronic anxiety. We know and trust ourselves.
At first it can be very helpful to have someone with you as you explore this territory and begin to trust you will not be overwhelmed and that it is safe to feel. I find that most people working with me privately reach that tipping point after only a few sessions. We need to KNOW in our cells that even intense energy is not here to hurt us. It is here to be felt, seen (images) and heard (words). There is always a reason for the energy and sensations in our body. It is not random that we brace our shoulders when we feel attacked. That our gut clenches in fear. This is our nervous system and primitive brain protecting us.
This short video explains the basics and how to work with it: Fear of Trauma Stored in the Body