Trauma and the body – How to deal with trauma {Part 3}

Part 1 of this series talked about the conception of what is trauma, and Part 2 talked about how does it affects the body. Now we have the grand finale – How to deal with trauma.

But first, let’s talk about expectations. If you have suffered from any bad trauma you should go to professional that can give you hands on help. An online article will only help you to some extent, but it won’t do much for you without further action. What we want to talk about here is the principle of treatment, and offer ideas on how to go about it.

So, what does it take for trauma to heal? Well, the first news is that it starts with questioning this approach. So many times do we think of treatment as a war against something, as a campaign against an enemy who we are trying to wipe off. If you think about it, the essence of trauma is separation, the feeling of “I am separated from the world, I am not that”, so the very trying to overcome trauma as something external is a perpetuation of the phenomenon that causes it.

What you have to understand is that trauma is now a part of you. Everything that we live shape us and becomes part of us, but what causes pathology is the dissonance of saying “I am not that”, of fighting ourselves. What the treatment of trauma should do is to make us aware of this reality, and then show us how to integrate that experience into our whole experience. Anything, no matter how bad we think it is, is worst when we don’t accept it.

We should also talk about the diagnosis of trauma. Is it really fair to demand a person who has seen his child being killed to “get over it”? We have to be very careful with the pathologization of normal experiences. To cry and remember the death is normal; to feel devastated is normal. I am not saying you should not do anything about it, but just understand that the place from which you do anything is more important than what you actually do, provided that you do it.

That being said, the treatment of trauma should be most guided to the systems that were affected by the experience. In Part 2 we talked about how depending on the experience, trauma can affect most the Reptilian part of the brain, the Mammalian one or the Neocortex. We said that, for example, a challenge that caused us to freeze would affect most the reptilian brain, thus creating chronic problems in our brain, hormones, posture and character.

Neuroscience offers light about the treatment of trauma. Traditionally, it was thought that if something that existed in the unconscious could be brought to the conscious through the word, the person would overcome the trauma. Nevertheless, we have to understand that trauma cannot be “gotten over”, as they are not something that habits inside a person, but rather processes that are created from moment to moment.

Hence, the road is not fighting trauma nor its extensive analysis, but to be conscious from moment to moment the reasons why it is reborn, to understand how does trauma incorporates in all of the phenomenon of living.

For example, I once noticed that when my dad was around I would slightly hold my breath and talk softer, maybe because as I child this strategy help me to not caught much attention and in a way “survive”. Once you have the awareness, the solution flows: I started to consciously breathe deeper and talk with more confidence, as the experiences from my childhood should not guide the rest of my life. A more confident son means a more mature adult, which in turn has greatly change (and bettered) the relationship with my dad. Now I am sharing working projects with him and spending more quality time, as the vertical relationship of authority is fading away, only leaving respect and love. This is all very personal, but I want to show you how we all face this stuff on a very subtle level, how it all starts as a bodily expression, and how working at it can really better your life.

Do not let unresolved things from your past guide your present.

At the same time, we have to eliminate the barriers the impede direct contact so we can face it. For this, we have to follow the way through which the trauma was created.

Initially, words can only resolve the most superficial trauma, which is the one that came to be on a verbal level, but for the reactions of fight or flight or freezing, the treatment must be primarily corporal, as they are pre-verbal traumas. Trauma survives in the nervous system, in the endocrine system and the muscles and, from there, it projects itself to the mind. Thus, it is not that someone doesn’t have the courage to let the past go or that it is attached to it by mere desire. In reality, there is a chemical incapacity to overcome the past, an understanding that should intermediately wake compassion for those victims that, on many occasions, become the offenders.

All treatment of trauma should focus in solving the problems in the most primitive part of the brain, called the reptilian, to the most recent one, called the neocortex.

Maslow pyramid of needs. The road to overcome trauma is the same than for self-actualization: the body is the root.

In the reptilian brain, the most important thing is the sense of security. Without this, a person is not capable of facing trauma through the word. This means taking responsibility for the functions of the reptilian brain, as are sleep, appetite, respiration and homeostasis.

Also, in some people the search for security might mean taking a Krav Magá class that gives them the sensation of knowing how to defend themselves, do dynamic meditation so everything that is trapped can flower outside and, for others, practice yoga every morning to relax the muscles that stayed tense since the traumatic event. There are event specific exercises designed to face trauma as Bioenergetics or TRE, which is a system compiled by David Berceli that uses spontaneous tremors in the body to shake off trauma. Finally, the use of musical therapy with audios that look to induce a state of relaxation in the brain, like Lifeflow, can be beneficial.

In the mammalian brain, the most important thing is the sense of belonging. Social support is crucial here, as the management of emotions, intimacy and self esteem. The treatment of trauma is about making what’s still to move again. For this, singing or more so dancing, that mixes movement with rhythm, are very effective ways to learn how to let the past on its place, as to feel a synchrony that can only be felt when there is an expression of collective creativity, like with choirs or theater. In babies the sense of rhythm is learnt from crawling, which shows the relationship between movement and rhythm.

The person who has lived a trauma fears vulnerability, because feeling is a gateway to suffering, but also pleasure. For this, any activity that creates a space that invites to the safe expression of emotions is welcomed. As Elliott Hulse says, the contrary of depression is expression, so any artistic, corporal and creative expression is greatly useful.

Finally, in the neocortex the most important thing is the word: understanding that what happened was a situation that was bigger than us and that it wasn’t our fault. Here, free association or the analysis of dreams can be of great help. Two therapies that can be investigated in that regard, apart from psychoanalysis, are the called PSBP psychomotor therapy, created by Albert Pesso, and Neurofeedback.

So far I have mentioned various therapies that I can’t explain separately here or this would become a book, but let me be clear. Overcoming trauma is a process which requires work and time but, once the ground is settled, it happens in just an instant. You need to turn your life around to support good bodily, mental and soul health, but I want you to feel for at least a moment a peace of mind that will motivate you to then keep searching. Experience is what changes us, not intellectual ideas.

The technique which I know the most and which I have used personally is TRE, which stands for Trauma Release Therapy. I cannot explain the whole technique here, but try this. Take a look at this video and, after your next leg work out, do the position at minute 3:00 for five minutes, and then assume the position at minute 4:00 for as much as you need to (no more than 15 minutes). In here, breathe deeply, relax as much as possible and slowly try bringing your knees together. Let yourself go into the experience. Tears, huge laughs, they are all normal, as it is to not feel anything at first. Please let me know your experiences with this, and I hope that we keep digging together into this topics in the future.

If you’d like to know more about these topics, I suggest the work of Robert Scaer and Elliott Hulse

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