Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood and untreated cause of human suffering
– Dr Peter Levine
Trauma is any overwhelming event that is “too much, too fast, too soon” for a particular human nervous system to handle. Trauma happens to all of us.
People sometimes get confused when I say that and the confusion comes from a very narrow understanding of what trauma is. Trauma is basically a disconnect from safety. Anything that happens that make you disconnect from yourself and from your sense of safety could be labeled as trauma.
Trauma is not only major events like war, accidents, natural disasters or the death of a loved one. Trauma is also going through a divorce, chronic pain and illness, poverty, dysfunctional family dynamics, losing your job, emotional neglect and all kinds of abuse. As Dr Gabor Maté says “Trauma is not only the bad things that happened to you. Trauma is also the good things that should’ve happened but didn’t”.
Your trauma is valid
Some people, like me, more easily develop traumatic stress symptoms. This has to do with the degree of secure attachment and support received early on in life. People who lacked secure attachment are more likely to become overwhelmed in circumstances that might disturb a securely attached person but not create a chronic stress response. In my case it also has to do with the fact that I’m highly sensitive. All HSP:s have a more sensitive nervous system and process events more deeply and might therefore internalize an event as traumatic when non-hsp:s wouldn’t.
“The problem with trauma for HSPs is that it takes less of an event to affect us”
– Elaine Aaron. PhD.
Other factors that make you more vulnerable to trauma include genetics, history of trauma and culture. We now know that trauma can be passed on through generations. The good news is so can the healing of trauma.
A holistic view
Living with the effects of trauma is physical, emotional and spiritual. Healing trauma is a whole person approach and it starts with letting your body know it’s safe. It’s ok to turn the alarm off, relax and go back to business as usual. Business as usual is digesting food, sleeping, intimacy, sex, rest, creativity and play.
Trauma is what happens inside of you as a result of a traumatic event. Trauma is the disconnect from yourself, your emotions and your body
-Dr Gabor Maté
Something happened in the past that set your body’s alarm clock off letting you know you were in danger and you needed to run, hide, fight back or play dead. All internal resources for health and vitality were redirected to respond to the threat. So far so good.
But what happens if the danger passes and you lack sufficient psychological coping mechanisms or support from other adults and people to turn the alarm clock off? What happens when there’s not enough space, time or energy to integrate the experience in order for it to move through you the way it’s meant to? Your nervous system won’t get the message that the experience is over, it won’t regulate your body back to normal and you’ll be stuck in the emotional state of the past.
This can be devastating for your health. Resulting in digestive issues, sleeping problems, lack of lust and libido, anxiety, tension, depression, anger issues, restlessness and difficulty trusting your relationships. To name just a few implications.
Also there are different diagnoses connected to long-term effects on mental and emotional health when it comes to trauma. PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) being one of them. It can only be diagnosed by a Doctor according to a collection of symptoms still active 3 months or more after the traumatic event.
How to start healing
“The single most important issue for traumatized people is to find a sense of safety in their bodies”
– Bessel van der Kolk
Healing trauma is possible. It’s a process and not a linear one. We might be doing it for a good part of the rest of our lives but it’s worth it. We can become healthier and thrive even more than we did before the trauma. If we can find the courage to start the process of becoming whole.
Trauma healing work
- Creating safe connections and finding empathy. Group therapy sessions and healing circles are great ways to do this. Being able to feel safe with others is key in trauma healing.
- Validating your emotional experiences and expressing them. Practice self-compassion.
- Respect personal space, boundaries and set limits.
- Mindfulness of the present moment. Coming back to the present moment when triggered through noticing what you see, hear, smell, taste and feel.
- Breath awareness, breathing techniques and relaxation.
- Self-regulation exercises and body awareness.
- Body movement to release tension: shaking, dancing, yoga.
- Healing the digestive system with healing foods and mindful eating.
- Journaling, free drawing and mindful writing.
- Transcending the trauma, make meaning and wisdom of it. Share it with others.
Not everyone responds to these activities in the same way and no two healing journeys look the same. Make sure to get help and that said help is trauma trained or at least properly trauma-informed. When healing from trauma it’s important not to re-traumatize. You can heal from trauma without knowing the specifics or re-living every detail of what happened to you.
Great books on trauma
“The body keeps the score” – Bessel Van Der Kolk
“Trauma-Sensitive Mindfulness” – David A Treleaven
Healing my own traumas has been life-changing to say the least. The biggest motivation for me has been my daughter. Before I had her I made the promise of not passing on to her what was passed on to me. To not let my conditioning become her lifes story. Little did I know this promise would take me on the journey of a lifetime.
Post traumatic growth opens our hearts to love, for ourselves and others. When transforming our own suffering to compassion we commit to healing others. This is the timeless wisdom of all spiritual traditions now verified by recent scientific conclusions.
Leila Andersson is a holistic healer and educator. She’s a certified mindfulness instructor, yoga teacher and motivational coach. For years her official story was 9 to 5 and corporate. Now she inspires through writing, speaking and leading. She intuitively coaches groups and clients in emotional and spiritual healing, stress management and creativity. Her mission is reconnecting the collective body-mind-heart disconnect.