A traumatic event is much more than 'just' a story of bullying, sexual assault, physical or emotional abuse, etc, that happened long ago. The emotions and sensations which were experienced at that time may have become imprinted during the trauma and instead of being memories they are still experienced as disruptive physical reactions and sensations in the present. And often these may become worse, not better, with time.
The human brain detects threats via the limbic system, which has the job of keeping you safe and usually happens completely subconsciously. It is responsible for the tagging of negative experiences with an emotional charge designed to indicate that something is wrong. Each time there is, for example, a traumatic experience where a person felt powerless, the limbic system tags this as unsafe and stores it in its memory bank. It is continually scanning the present environment, comparing what is happening now with its stores of previously tagged memories and if it sees a connection with a previously tagged memory it instantly puts your system on high alert and a fear response, either fight, flight, freeze or fawn, kicks in.
In his book "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts" Gabor Mate writes, "The greatest damage done by neglect, trauma or emotional loss is not the immediate pain they inflict but the long-term distortions they induce in the way a developing child will continue to interpret the world and her situation in it. All too often these ill-conditioned implicit beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies in our lives. We create meanings from our unconscious interpretation of early events, and then we forge our present experiences from the meaning we've created. Unwittingly, we write the story of our future from narratives based on the past… While Gabor is writing about a child's trauma, this may also be the experience of a person experiencing trauma at any age.
At the very core of recovery or change is self-awareness. Those who have been traumatised frequently experience various levels of physical sensations and reactions such as tightness in their chest, churning in their stomach, tremors, nightmares, flashbacks, etc, from mild to intolerably uncomfortable and avoiding or denying these sensations most often increases the risk of being overwhelmed by them. However, those who are traumatised are often fearful of feeling. The traumatic event may be months or years in the past but now their emotional (unconscious) brain keeps generating bodily sensations which keep them fearful, anxious and helpless. This causes the sufferer to to do their best to keep their body frozen and their mind shut to try and avoid feeling these extremely uncomfortable emotions or sensations.
Because their sensory world feels so uncomfortable, trauma survivors may avoid situations that trigger them such as certain social activities or making love. Many also become compulsive eaters, drinkers or addicted to drugs in an attempt to avoid these feelings.
Clinical EFT (tapping) Practitioners have been trained in various gentle techniques which allow the trauma sufferer to safely, gently and slowly release these disruptive physical reactions, sensations and emotions so the memory remains without any charge. The trauma ceases to have control, giving them more freedom to live how they choose to.
References: Book - The body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk
Leave your questions here
Hi Marc, that is really tough!! Maybe the way your therapists and psychologists practised and the modalities they used didn't work for you. The thing is not to give up. I use Emotional Freedom Technique, a mind body technique, with my clients which works really well. There is also EMDR and some "energy medicine" techniques which are very effective. I encourage you to give something else a go - there is hope :-) And, thank you for your feedback. I appreciate it.
I liked your article. Indeed, psychological trauma is a very terrible thing. What if neither therapists nor psychologists help a person who has been traumatized? I remember when I had a childhood injury, my parents took me to different specialists, but no one could help me. As a result, after many years I have been living with it and I still cannot forget it.
Hi Emma, I agree that we often don't even realise. That is the case with many people I work with who think that that had nothing in their childhood that effected them. It is stored in the subconscious and it is possible to go through life not realising where our 'anxiety, self-loathing, anger, resentment, physical symptoms, etc' come from. I use Emotional Freedom Technique EFT or "Tapping" which enables my clients to 'remember' or access those memories. It is often an 'ahuh' moment when they realise the root cause.
Thank you so much for this article. Trauma is a terrible thing. I think a lot of problems also come from the fact that many people do not know that they are psychologically traumatized. I mean that it was only after many years that I realized that my self-loathing is the result of childhood injury, that is, my problem did not appear from scratch. But what to do next? I don't know. I think that in principle many people with low self-esteem do not just dislike themselves, each has its own story and traumatic memories. I took the events that happened to me for granted, so I didn't even think that it could be something traumatic but as it turned out it was. How do you think how to find this source in your memories and how do you even realize that you were traumatized and how? How to understand in general that there is a source of excessive nervousness, anxiety, lack of emotions and so on?