Trauma is defined as any distressing experience – often an unexpected, dramatic and isolating event – in which we feel powerless and have no control or strategy to cope with what is happening.
When we experience a traumatising event the body’s survival response of either flight, flight or freeze is activated. If we are able to confront or escape the situation we are more likely to process the event after it has happened. We cry. We shake. We lick our wounds. We grieve. Our nervous system returns from being aroused at the threat of danger to a state of ‘rest and digest’, and we move on and put the event behind us.
However, it is often the case we can’t fight or escape the situation, and instead we freeze, the body completely shutting down and effectively ‘playing dead’ so that we can survive what is happening. The freeze response is an entirely appropriate and normal reaction to a threatening experience and the brain doing its job to protect us. However the consequence of this reaction is that trauma isn’t processed, remaining ‘live’ in the body and mind, and which then leads to an array of stressful symptoms and fragmentation of self.
Trauma symptoms can range from feeling sleepless and restless, angry and tearful, anxious, hyper-vigilant and over-aroused; to experiencing panic attacks, a sense of detachment or ‘out-of-bodyness’ (dissociation), intrusive thoughts, nightmares and flashbacks; and to full-blown depression and dissociative and anxiety disorders ranging from PTSD to DID (dissociative identity disorder).
Trauma is particularly damaging when experienced in childhood, and especially during the first six years of life; and where a child has experienced an unstable, abusive and neglectful environment, violating the boundaries of the emerging self, and damaging the bond with the parent. Multiple trauma in childhood is also known as complex trauma and disrupts a child’s development, sense of self and the ability to form secure relationships.
Unprocessed trauma and its resulting symptoms is inevitably re-triggered by similar situations or people. It’s important to note that as an adult we can perceive an event quite differently to our childhood self – it might seem insignificant as an adult now but to the child it was frightening and threatening.
Trauma ultimately cuts us off from the roots of our deepest self so we feel disconnected and orphaned from our centre. Healing trauma is the integration of all the unprocessed feelings and sensory information at the time of the event, reconnecting us back to the body, to authentic experience and to a sense of safety in the world.
For smaller traumas simply talking through the experience and working through the accompanying feelings is enough to process the event. However, and especially with big trauma – the life threatening events – it often isn’t enough to simply talk it through, and could have the opposite effect and risk re-traumatisation. This is why I am trained in three specific therapies, which I combine together, and that are very gentle, safe and effective for processing trauma: