Most of us are aware of the many forms trauma can take in our lives. As a society, we have accepted trauma as a fact of life. It’s no longer seen as a problem reserved solely for soldiers or victims of violence; sources are wide ranging. They can include such things as: natural disasters, exposure to violence, serious illness, medical/dental procedures, accidents, falls, the sudden loss of someone close to you, surgeries, difficult births, childhood neglect/abuse, high levels of stress, toxicity during gestation, etc. Symptoms will not result from every traumatic event we experience, but are rampant in the lives of many.
- Chronic pain
- Panic or anxiety
- Panic attacks
- Chronic tension
- Sleep disorders
- Sexual dysfunctions
- Gastrointestinal disorders
This list is in no way exhaustive or even complete as symptoms of trauma are extensive, but can serve as a good baseline.
To understand the symptoms of trauma it is useful to refer to basic biology. You may have heard of “fight or flight,” but the biologic response to danger or attack does not end there. In the instance when the individual under attack does not escape through either flight or flight methods, many will enter an altered state. It can be seen in animals that have been captured by a predator. They fall, immobile, to the ground. This response allows the animal to avoid suffering at the time of death. Having said that, if an opportunity for escape presents itself even after this seemingly fatal biological response, the prey animal may still arouse from its stupor or trance and successfully escape.
The state of immobility that occurs when a predator traps its prey is key when attempting to understand trauma. Once our fight or flight survival responses have been engaged, they need to succeed in their purpose in order for our nervous systems to revert back to a restful state.
If this is not possible, the nervous system may default or freeze. Individuals in this immobilized or frozen state often appear calm on the outside, but inside their systems are operating at panic levels below their conscious awareness. This creates the symptoms of trauma we have become accustomed to seeing. The symptoms of trauma develop as a result of the inability to complete the process of moving through the immobility response and successfully discharging the powerful survival energies intended to aid us in moments of emergency and danger.
These biological urges are instinctive. They are generated in the most primitive part of our brain thus trauma symptoms are often related to the functions regulated by this same area of the brain: heart rate and blood pressure, breathing, digestion, appetite, sex, sleep, etc. To put it simply, trauma symptoms appear to be a natural way of containing the intense energy generating by our own survival instincts until they can be resolved.
Extreme symptoms can be classified as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), but milder forms can also be damaging and difficult to treat and often result in general anxiety, etc. Regardless of the severity of the symptoms caused by trauma, there are healing treatments available. Trauma, once felt, does not necessarily need to result in a life sentence.
Peter Levine developed Somatic Experiencing, a gentle therapy that can successfully resolve and discharge these unresolved survival energies that generate varying degrees of trauma symptoms. The treatment is based upon the fact that our bodies are biologically designed to know exactly what to do in order to heal the damage that can be created when survival energies are trapped without resolution. They simply need adequate support.
The primitive part of our brains govern our survival responses, but we also have higher brain functions; emotional and cognitive responses that can interfere with the natural instincts of our primitive brain functions.
If you have questions about how to treat trauma or if you are unsure if you are identifying symptoms of trauma correctly, please get in touch with Lynn Brimhall, LCSW.
Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a gentle and successful treatment supporting our bodies as they access this natural wisdom and apply it to the healing and resolution of the effects of trauma.