"If you're going through hell, keep going” ~ Winston Churchill
Many years after Freud named traumatic symptoms “hysteria”, a diagnosis given only to women, the impact of traumatic experiences is finally becoming more widely understood. Studies have found that 1 in 3 adults in England report having experienced at least 1 traumatic event in their lives (Mental Health Foundation, 2020).
Research from King’s College London suggests that 1 in 13 young people in the UK have had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) before reaching age 18. A UK-based study found that 31% of young people had a traumatic experience during childhood, & those who were exposed to trauma were twice as likely as their peers to have mental health disorders (Lancet Psychiatry, 2019).
“You are not responsible for anything that happens to you as a child but you are 100% responsible for your own healing.” ~ Johnnie Dent Jr.
Potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood are known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which include violence, abuse, & growing up in a family with mental health or substance use problems. Toxic stress caused by ACEs can change brain development & affect how the body responds to stress. Although the ACEs don’t consider stressors outside the household, protective factors or individual differences, they have been found to cause chronic physical health problems, mental illness, & substance misuse in adulthood.
The clinical diagnostic tool (DSM-5) requires “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence” for an event to be classified as a trauma. However, Francine Shapiro (1997), defines two types of trauma:
~Large-T trauma is an event that is considered traumatic for most people & qualifies for a medical PTSD diagnosis e.g. car crash, rape, war, natural disasters
~Small-t trauma is an event that is traumatic at a personal level e.g. death of a pet, relationship break up, emotional blackmail or medical crisis. If left unhealed, can lead to PTSD type symptoms
Fundamentally, an experience is traumatic when we don’t have agency over our response to the perceived threatening situation.
Stephen Porges (1994) identified the following responses to traumatic events:
~Initially we reach out for help & support
~If no one comes to our aid or if there is an immediate danger then the fight / flight response is engaged where we try to defend or get away from the threat
~If the above fails, then we can experience the collapse or freeze response; shutting down or numbing out
Bessel Van Der Kolk (2014) shows how the Body Keeps The Score; that trauma, if not processed, remains in the body on a cellular level. Following the terrorist bomb attack in Manchester in 2017, Ariana Grande showed the physical effect of the trauma in her brain scans posted in Instagram. People suffering from trauma experience an increase in limbic system function including the amygdala, which alerts our fight/flight response & holds emotional memories. Also neocortex function decreases, reducing our ability for logical reasoning, understanding & production of speech, willpower & self-development.
“Our brokenness summons light into the deepest crevices in our hearts.”
~ Shauna L Hoey
For those suffering from trauma, trauma has shut down their inner compass & robbed them of the imagination they need to create something better. Medications only blunt sensations & do nothing to resolve them or transform them from toxic agents into allies (Bessel Van Der Kolk, 2014). Although providing short-term relief, the blunting also impacts on the ‘positive’ sensations & limits our connection with Self.
“Sometimes we use our minds not to discover facts, but to hide them. One of things the screen hides most effectively is the body, our own body, by which I mean, the ins & outs of it, its interiors. Like a veil thrown over the skin to secure its modesty, the screen partially removes from the mind the inner states of the body, those that constitute the flow of life as it wanders in the journey of each day.” (Antonio R. Damasio, 1999)
This is often the case with traumatised people, who are often afraid of feeling. It is not so much the perpetrators… but their own physical sensations that are now the enemy… Being traumatised is not just an issue being stuck in the past; it is just as much of a problem not being fully alive in the present (Bessel Van Der Kolk, 2014). The imagination of the trauma sufferer becomes wired to detect in the present any similarity to past traumas, so causing hypervigilence & hyperarousal.
Mindfulness supports us to be alive in the present, calming down the nervous system so we are less likely to be thrown into fight or flight (J. Kabat-Zinn, 2011). Technique is key, focusing to slow down & extend the out breath, which encourages the nervous system to relax.
“The breath is like a river & is our path to the ocean of peace that lies within.” ~ Michael Brant DeMaria
Refocusing of attention & relaxation allows dominance of the nervous system, one of the active ingredients for healing trauma (Gentry, 1999). Bessel Van Der Kolk (2014) states that imagination is absolutely critical for quality of life. Incorporating the imagination using techniques such as hypnotherapy refocuses the attention in a deep state of relaxation, allowing profound healing to occur.
“Healing doesn't just take a little time, it also takes commitment to get started & to complete the process” ~ Sereda Aleta Dailey
Tell me, are you ready to heal?