What is trauma?
We become traumatized when our ability to respond to a perceived threat is in some way overwhelmed. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized. It is evident that war, emotional, physical or sexual abuse, violence, and injuries can be traumatic, but often auto accidents (even fender benders), routine invasive medical procedures, loss of loved ones, etc. can have the same effect. As children, if we are exposed to abuse, neglect, or even just simply didn’t feel seen/heard/supported, we don’t learn how to self-regulate. This lack of regulation (dysregulation) can show up in the nervous system and in our lives as difficulties with emotions (too big or a flatness), relationships, addictions, chronic pain and illnesses.
Is it trauma or just stress?
Stress dysregulates our nervous systems - but for only a relatively short period of time.
Within a few days or weeks, our nervous systems calm down and we revert to a normal state of equilibrium. This return to normalcy is not the case when we have been traumatized. In essence, the nervous system gets stuck in overdrive, acts as if the threat is still present, and causes a variety of symptoms that can affect all aspects of life: physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual, and social.
Click here for common symptoms of trauma
My approach to treating trauma
Knowledge is power. By helping you recognize the effects that the trauma has had on your system as a whole, you will be better equipped to understand and cope with your symptoms when they arise. Symptoms are uncomfortable, and sometimes seemingly unbearable. But your body and its accompanying system of thoughts, beliefs and behaviors are responding in a normal and predictable way. Believe it or not, this system is trying to protect you. It is possible to move from a sense of "I hate this!" to a new place of acceptance, understanding, and maybe even gratitude.
Mindfulness and Acceptance
Symptoms can be scary, and often times are made worse by the internal thoughts and judgments that go along with them. By learning how to foster an attitude of non-judgment toward the symptoms, you will begin to step back from them and view them as neutral events in the mind and body, rather than as identifying with them and allowing them to define who you are. In essence, a change occurs in the relationship that you have with the symptoms. By utilizing grounding and centering practices, the system develops a greater tolerance for discomfort, helping you connect with a sense of empowerment, rather than overwhelm. These techniques result in a greater ability to self-regulate emotions and an improved overall sense of self-esteem and control.
Talk is important to the healing process, but it can only go so far. Trauma symptoms occur when the nervous system cannot process the event and residual energy from the experience is not discharged from the body. In session, as you learn to be present with and track the sensations within the body, we can attend to its unique voice and release the charges of energy that have been trapped by trauma. Using a technique called Somatic Experiencing®, we start small to avoid overloading the system, to build a sense of competency, and to create capacity for dealing with more highly charged material. As space is created in the system, an organic shift occurs, reorganizing itself with more room for self-regulation and joy.
Trauma is invasive and has a profound impact on our sense of safety. Safety starts on the inside; as you begin to feel safer internally, the external world begins to feel safer as well. As the body and mind begin to re-balance and heal, often we need to readjust how we view ourselves and our place in the world. Trust, boundaries, and intimacy are common areas that are addressed, as well as the exploration of new meanings and a sense of purpose in life.
As a trauma survivor, I have a firsthand understanding of the symptoms, and consequences of those symptoms. I came through the other side successfully, and so can you! As your therapist, I will be there with you every step of the way to offer compassion, encouragement and insight. Therapy isn’t always easy, but if you are willing to commit to the rewarding work of your own healing, I am willing commit to you.
Click here to learn more about Somatic Experiencing®
Our deepest fears are like dragons, guarding our deepest treasures.
Rainer Maria Rilke