What is trauma and do we heal it

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What is trauma? Bessel Van Der Kolk said, “Unlike other forms of psychological disorders, the core issue in trauma is reality.” The dictionary defines trauma as, “an experience that produces psychological injury or pain.” Furthermore SAMHSA defines a childhood traumatic event as, “Psychological, physical, or sexual abuse, Community or school violence, Witnessing or experiencing domestic violence, National disasters or terrorism, Commercial sexual exploitation, Sudden or violent loss of a loved one, Refugee or war experiences, Military family-related stressors (e.g., deployment, parental loss or injury), Physical or sexual assault, Neglect, Serious accidents or life-threatening illness.” Basically, trauma is anything that has an adverse effect on an individual’s mental health. Trauma forces our bodies into a hyperarousal state, where we are constantly on guard, waiting for something to happen. We are in a place of survival. Trauma can also live in our bodies, causing illness and pain. Trauma affects us emotionally because we no longer feel secure or safe. Mentally we become exhausted, cranky and angry, as we do not always understand our reactions or feelings since we are in a state of flight, fight or freeze. Living a life that feels scary and unsafe is no way to live life. Trauma is an event or events that impacts our wellbeing. Trauma rewires our system to be constantly alert, ready for something to happen. Trauma keeps us from feeling relaxed or at ease. 

Photo by  Sydney Sims  on  Unsplash

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

How does trauma manifest its self? Peter Levine said, 

“The symptoms of trauma can be stable, that is, ever-present. They can also be unstable, meaning that they can come and go and be triggered by stress. Or they can remain hidden for decades and suddenly surface. Usually, symptoms do not occur individually but come in groups. They often grow increasingly complex over time, becoming less and less connected with the original trauma experience.”  

According to helpguide.org the symptoms of trauma are vast and many, 

“ Emotional & psychological symptoms: Shock, denial, or disbelief, Confusion, difficulty concentrating, Anger, irritability, mood swings, Anxiety and fear, Guilt, shame, self-blame, Withdrawing from others, Feeling sad or hopeless, Feeling disconnected or numb and Physical symptoms: Insomnia or nightmares, Fatigue, Being startled easily, Difficulty concentrating, Racing heartbeat, Edginess and agitation, Aches and pains and Muscle tension.”  

Trauma can feel like it is sabotaging ourselves. Trauma affects every aspect of our lives. Even when we believe that we are functioning we are not functioning at our fullest. We are skeptical even fearful of others, struggle to trust people and feel safe in our daily lives. 

Trauma hides us from ourselves. The key to treating trauma is to allow the self to feel whole again. To feel safe again. Bessel Van Der Kolk said, 

“Beneath the surface of the protective parts of trauma survivors there exists an undamaged essence, a Self that is confident, curious, and calm, a Self that has been sheltered from destruction by the various protectors that have emerged in their efforts to ensure survival. Once those protectors trust that it is safe to separate, the Self will spontaneously emerge, and the parts can be enlisted in the healing process.” 

This is the goal of healing trauma, wholeness.  The goal of healing trauma is to get to the Self, allowing the person to reconnect to themselves, feeling whole.  

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A powerful healing technique is soul retrieval. Soul retrieval is practiced by shamans in several indigeous tribes around the world. Soul retrieval is when a shaman goes into a meditative state, and journeys to find the person’s missing soul pieces that have left due to trauma. According to Isa Gucciardi, “ Soul loss can be caused by any type of trauma: emotional, physical, spiritual, or psychological. And trauma can be the result of many things including verbal or physical attack, surgery, abuse, or a sudden loss. From a shamanic perspective, when trauma occurs, a soul part can become “frozen outside of time.” When this happens, the soul part does not evolve with the person as they continue their life….The task in soul retrieval is to travel outside of time, in non-ordinary reality, to recover the parts of the soul that have become separated from the main psychic structure.”  Soul retrieval, when done by shamans, involves the shaman going into a trance state, finding the missing part and returning it. When done in the context of psychotherapy, the trained psychotherapist guides the client through a guided meditation to retrieve the lost soul part. This is highly impactful for the client, as they actively participate in retrieving what was lost, providing profound healing, as the person has greater awareness and insight into themselves. 

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We also hold our traumas in our bodies. Another powerful tool to heal trauma is through somatic healing.  Healing the trauma in the body. Peter Levine said, 

“In response to threat and injury, animals, including humans, execute biologically based, non-conscious action patterns that prepare them to meet the threat and defend themselves. The very structure of trauma, including activation, dissociation, and freezing are based on the evolution of survival behaviors. When threatened or injured, all animals draw from a "library" of possible responses. We orient, dodge, duck, stiffen, brace, retract, fight, flee, freeze, collapse, etc. All of these coordinated responses are somatically based- they are things that the body does to protect and defend itself. It is when these orienting and defending responses are overwhelmed that we see trauma.” 

Somatic healing involves a series of exercises between the client and therapist that allow the body to release the trauma and the client to feel safe once again in their own body. 

Trauma also affects our energy systems. We are also energy systems and healing our energy brings the healing of trauma full circle. Judith Anedea describes the chakras as, 

“ In order to understand a human being, we have to examine the flow of energy through the system. We can think of this energy as excitement, charge, attention, awareness, or simply the life force. (Some spiritual systems describe it as chi, ki, or prana.) Our understanding of the chakras comes from a pattern analysis of energy flowing through a person’s body, behavior, and environment… a chakra is a center of organization that receives, assimilates, and expresses life force energy...chakras are not physical entities in and of themselves. Like feelings or ideas, they cannot be held like a physical object, yet they have a strong effect upon the body as they express the embodiment of spiritual energy on the physical plane., “

When we heal on an energetic level we are releasing and clearing the trauma that has clouded and clung to our energy. We are realigning our system. Reiki can be a powerful tool is healing and realigning the body’s energy system.  

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Combining the power of soul retrieval, somatic and energy healing, psychotherapy provides the client with space to process and integrate the healing. We are a society that loves our stories, our daily lives revolve around the stories we tell, witness and participate in. Psychotherapy provides an outlet for these stories, to honor them, accept them, recreate them, change them, rewrite them, throw them away.

Healing trauma allows person to no longer be at the will of the effects of trauma. It allows the person to feel whole and complete. It gives the person hope.