Human beings are tender feeling creatures. We are born with our hearts and minds open to experience the world in all it’s wonderment. However life has a tendency to challenge us to learn new ways of being and unfortunately this sometimes include being exposed to very traumatic incidents.
Trauma has touched most of our lives in some shape or form. It can take many forms from a traffic accident, childhood or adult sexual assault, physical assault, a death or emotional abuse. At the time of the trauma and immediately afterwards we develop different ways of coping with the internal fear. Discussions on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are focused on people surviving war, disaster, or accident. Victims of sexual abuse display the same symptoms of PTSD as war veterans and this is widening out practitioners and researchers use of PTSD treatments.
In all cases of trauma our ability to cope is overwhelmed and the resulting symptoms are debilitating. In some cases we may not be aware of the trauma for years after. When we suffer a trauma we are confronted with the realisation that there is nothing we can do to fight off the inevitable. Our self-protection system of fight/flight reacts in response to the incident, but when these do not work we become traumatised. Our feelings of being able to cope are replaced with fear. This can result in freezing or splitting from our bodies, this is the body’s natural way of reducing pain. The results of trauma can be that we are intensely on guard with our brain scanning the world around us for threats or danger. Our inner guard is always alert to any threat and this can result in difficulty relaxing, panic attacks or relationship difficulties. Because of this discomfort we can stay split from our bodies resulting in over eating, physical neglect or disregard for our safety.
For example if I am knocked down by a car crossing the road, I freeze just at the time of impact, every time I cross the road afterwards I will freeze slightly and feel fear, I might avoid crossing the road or feel terrified every time I have to cross. The work of psychotherapy is to assist in reducing the freezing and splitting by returning to the emotional point of split or freezing in a safe environment. This is a very painful process of reliving the incident and developing a different coping mechanism to the trauma.
Traumatic incidents result in a feeling that we have no choice other than to put up with the feelings. If we suffer abuse, attack or a life threatening injury we feel that our choice about what happened does not matter. This powerlessness can have a devastating effect on our lives. The traumatic feeling of powerlessness is felt in our bodies and our body remembers and stores it. Trauma is treatable through various methods that work with the mind, body and spirit.
Choice is an important issue to consider when choosing a treatment for trauma. As the loss of choice is a symptom of trauma, it is important to feel that treatment enables choice. It is vital to choose a professional experienced with trauma and to feel safe with choices in the treatment. Also as trauma is embodied suffering there are various somatic and body therapies that can help to release the embodied pain.
Gerry O Farrell, Psychotherapist and Counsellor working in the Dublin 15 area with working to develop the clients own self-awareness and by doing so assist them in finding their own way forward through their difficulties. Working with relationship problems, anxiety, panic attacks, childhood trauma, PTSD and depression