Warning: This article includes mention of a variety of traumatic situations like rape, accidents, and war. Please call 911 in case of an emergency, and reach out to your counselor or a hotline like SAMHSA for mental health support, or check out nivati.com/emergency for more hotlines.
This blog post was written by Kristen Peairs, Nutritionist and Meditation Guru at Nivati. You can see more of their content on the Nivati platform and on the Nivati blog. If you want to learn more about Nivati, click here.
Throughout my career of working with people who have aches, pains, and problems that don’t go away, I’ve noticed that unresolved stresses from the past seem to play a role in keeping the misery going. Until recently, I never had a name for those past stresses. I just used the skills I had, and clients eventually felt more comfortable. Now I’ve realized that those past stresses were called trauma and that a whole body of research is associated with it.
I used to think that trauma was only associated with physical abuse and wars, but I was wrong. Trauma can be stimulated by anything. Using this new framework of understanding, I now realize that I have trauma, my clients have trauma, and it’s likely that all humans have some level of trauma within them.
Let’s explore this topic together.
In life, have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt powerless, helpless, and/or isolated?
I’m guessing the answer is yes. Events such as deaths, relationship break-ups, and job layoffs can inspire these feelings just as easily as car accidents, rapes, and bombings. Even as these events can be terribly challenging, the emotional aftermath of what is left behind in a survivor’s body can be even worse. That aftermath from the stress is called trauma.
What is trauma?
Feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, and/or isolation are central to the experience of trauma. Even though it’s common to hear events described as traumatic, the truth is that the trauma is not the event. Trauma is what happens inside you when you are experiencing the event. Dr. Gabor Mate, a trauma and addiction specialist, says, “Trauma isn’t what happens to you, it’s what happens inside you in response to what happens to you.”
What creates trauma?
Considering that life is a never-ending series of things happening, all experiences have the potential to inspire trauma.
Many times, when something stressful occurs, we can’t or don’t choose to fully process all of the emotions associated with it.
Ignored, suppressed, or denied emotions do not go away.
They leave markers in our nervous systems that create added sensitivity to similar stimuli. This is part of how our bodies try to keep us safe.
When a person is experiencing a full-blown trauma response, they have very little ability to think logically and compassionately because their nervous system is in survival mode—fight or flight.
Perhaps you’ve witnessed someone being very upset about something that seems small? It could be that a current stress triggered a past stress and the reaction you’re seeing is the person’s nervous system being switched into full alarm mode. At the point in which they are having this reaction, logic and good judgement may not be accessible to them.
A body with trauma patterning doesn’t know that the current stress isn’t related to the past stress. If the current stress is a loud punctuated sound of a car backfiring, a body with trauma may not know that the sound doesn’t indicate a life or death threat. It just knows that in the past, sounds like these occurred and bad things happened (perhaps because they were gunshots), so now, fight or flight is necessary to ensure safety. Emotional outbursts, pain, and illness can all be signs of trauma patterning.
Can you think of a time when you have experienced an ache, pain, or emotion that might have been influenced by a past stress/trauma?
How You Can Heal From Trauma
With all this information about trauma, you may be asking yourself, “How can I heal from trauma?” Fortunately, healing from trauma is possible. It happens in three stages.
Stages of Trauma Recovery
Stages of recovery from trauma are as follows:
1. Safety and Stabilization
Re-learning how to feel safe and comfortable in our bodies and relationships is the first step when we are seeking to heal trauma. Certain emotions can be particularly overwhelming, so it may take days, weeks, or years of practice with the assistance of skilled professionals to effectively self-soothe and achieve release from the patterns of becoming triggered. In this stage, it’s important to know that emotions are not enemies and to allow room for hope that things really can be better.
Some strategies for creating safety and stability include
- Social Support: Having people with whom you feel safe to lean toward is important. Friends, family, therapists, clergy, and other specialized healers are all options when creating a social structure that facilitates healing.
- Meditation: Meditation is a practice that supports the mind and body by training attention and awareness. It helps us stay in or return to the present moment during a trauma trigger. Whether the meditation involves soft belly breathing, walking in nature, or slow mindful movements, it’s important to include some form of mindfulness in our recovery process.
- Food and Nutrition: What we put in our bodies makes a big difference in how our minds work. The nutrients from the foods we consume help repair the damage that trauma stress causes and makes us more resilient in life, now. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all important components of a diet that supports recovery.
2. Remembrance and Mourning
Once you have learned how to feel safe and stable, the second stage of recovering from trauma is about remembering and mourning. This stage is frequently facilitated by a counselor or therapist. The goal during this time is to help your brain and body stay present while processing all the way through the experience.
During this phase, you practice using your safety and stability skills when the trauma responses flare.
3. Reconnection and Integration
New creation happens in this phase. When you reach the third stage of trauma recovery, you no longer define yourself by what happened to you. Instead, even though you may continue to experience some emotions related to the traumatic event, in this phase, you feel empowered and feel that you have a choice in how you move forward in your life.
How to know if you’ve recovered
You know you have recovered when you are able to live in the present without being controlled by the past. It is true that you may always have memories, but those memories will no longer have the same overpowering influence over you and your life.
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