“Traumatic symptoms are not caused by the event itself. They arise when residual energy from the experience is not discharged from the body. This energy remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds." - Peter Levine
Trauma occurs when the body’s nervous system suffers an overwhelming response to a stressful event. Trauma affects one’s physical, emotional, and mental well-being and can manifest itself in a variety of ways:
What exactly is trauma? Many people are perplexed by the effects of trauma and wonder how traumatic incidences can have such long lasting and devastating effects on one’s life. Trauma can be any experience that leaves one with significant negative emotions. I have had many clients come to me and say, “I have not been in combat or sexually assaulted, so I don’t have any trauma." However, trauma is not always that easy to identify. It can be things such as public ridicule, critical put downs by parents, real or imagined abandonment, or any form of emotional abuse. From this perspective, if your 3rd grade teacher called you stupid and you formed a negative belief about yourself that you carried throughout your life, that is an example of a traumatic incident. Trauma changes the way we feel about ourselves, our beliefs, and our perspective on the world.
What makes traumatic memories so tricky is that they are stored differently than other memories. Most of the time, our body manages new information without being aware of it. However, when something traumatic occurs, our natural coping mechanism can be overloaded. This may be from a overwhelming event (such as a car accident) or from repeated distress (such as childhood neglect). These events are so surprising and unnatural that our prefrontal cortex falls offline, and we are not able to cognitively process through them.
This overloading can result in disturbing experiences remaining frozen in our brain (unprocessed). In turn, these unprocessed memories and feelings are stored in the limbic system, of your brain, in a “raw” and emotional form, rather than in a verbal “story” form.
When these memories are stored in the raw, emotional form, it is more difficult to think about them in a cognitive, rational manner. In turn, we fill in the blanks and form irrational beliefs about ourselves or the world that became associated with that memory.
Often, the memory itself is long forgotten, but the painful feelings such as anxiety, panic, anger or despair are continually triggered in the present. Our ability to live in the present, have healthy relationships, and learn from new experiences can therefore be inhibited. We want to be able to address these traumatic incidences and reprocess through them so that we are able to feel fully and think rationally.
There are several ways that trauma is addressed and healed. At SHAW Center for Healing, we use a variety of methodologies: CBT for trauma, shame resiliency, post traumatic growth techniques, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which is the most evidenced-based trauma treatment available.
No matter which methodology we use, we follow the framework of the IATP Three Pronged Approach:
Learn more about EMDR and our Trauma Specialist Stefanie Schumacher.
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