A metal bending car accident, getting robbed, death of a loved one, and other obviously traumatic life events can leave people feeling frozen and helpless. But it's not just the Big "T" traumas that can cause pain. All the daily little stressors of life can have just a big of impact, sometimes even more so, than the big events.
Trauma can be caused by a single event or it can be cumulative, meaning that it's built up over time by lots of little events. It can happen in an instant or it can happen over years. While healing trauma can be complicated, becoming traumatized is actually a fairly simple process.
Every time you are stressed, meaning you have to take action because an outcome is uncertain, your body begins a cascade of chemical reactions that create energy in your body. This is a good thing. This energy allows us to escape from predators, fight adversaries, and talk our way out of trouble. The problem arises when we aren't able to use and move this energy through our body.
I'm sure you remember learning that energy cannot be created or destroyed, so if energy doesn't leave your body it doesn't just disappear... it gets stuck.
Unused energy gets lodged in our fascia, the connective tissue surrounding every muscle and organ in our bodies. Besides creating the structure and shape of our muscles, one of the primary functions of fascia is a shock absorber aka energy absorber. This amazing energy absorbing quality is what allows us to walk and run without feeling every little pebble we step on. It's also why we can get hit in the head with a baseball and not have our brains turn to mush.
But when the energy from a traumatic event gets stuck in our bodies, it no longer acts as a shock absorber. Instead, the fascia holds the energy. When this happens, this stuck energy changes the flow of energy moving through the fascia. The sensory nerves in the fascia sends signals up to the brain and we then experience different "felt" sensations than when energy moves freely through the fascia.
During sleep, our brain catalogs these sensations along with our thoughts about the events that occurred in our subconscious so that we can quickly and easily react to events in the future. (Want to learn more about how we respond to stress and trauma? Check out my Practical Neurobiology: Stress & Trauma FREE masterclass). For easier explanation and discussion, I call the fascia sensations "body snapshots" and the thoughts and feelings about the events "memory snapshots." The body snapshots and mental snapshots are paired together for easier retrieval.
Since this process happens every night about every event that occurs during your day, the brain has a way of creating a hierarchy of importance for the snapshots. Your emotional state is the trigger of the importance. The more emotional you are (meaning the more acetylcholine and norepinephrine are flowing through your brain), the more importance the brain places on the snapshots with the higher emotional value. This makes sense. Our brains should remember every detail of events when our lives were in danger so that we may avoid that same kind of danger. We don't need to remember every detail of what we wore 6 weeks ago when we were lounging around the house.
Each time we think about an event, feel sensations, or our subconscious is reminded about the event, our brain will retrieve both snapshots and direct energy towards actions that will quickly reduce your stress. Then at night, the brain will reprocess the body snapshots and memory snapshots with any new information, thoughts, or feelings it experienced during the day.
Unfortunately, most people spend lots of time remembering and rehashing emotionally charged events which causes the brain to create more energy (thoughts and speaking require energy) and without properly moving that energy through the body, the energy continues to build up causing pain, stiffness, and eventually dis-ease.
So how do you get this stuck energy out of your body?
Growing up, I never learned how to control my emotions and regulate my nervous system. My caregivers didn't know how to so they couldn't teach me what they didn't know. Over the years, I studied and learned many different modalities for regulating emotions from breathing exercises, yoga, meditation, dance, weight lifting, running, talk therapy... basically if there was a book written about it and I came across it, I jumped at the chance to heal myself.
While everything I learned was good at certain things, none of the modalities worked on the big picture... they only worked on a part. And the thing is, we are not just parts. We are whole humans made up of many parts working together to create a symphony of emotions and experiences.
Healing trauma requires you to work on you as a whole person, not just your parts. It requires you to work on 4 aspects of yourself: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. If you want to make quick, drastic improvements in your life, it is when you work on all 4 aspects at the same time that the quickest changes happen.
Luckily the process to work on all 4 parts of yourself is simple (it's only 4 steps) although not necessarily easy to do when you're learning. Over time it gets easier and becomes second nature.
Most of us are pretty good at this step or at least half of this step. You might be good at recognizing what you're feeling or you might be really good at recognizing the sensations in your body. The trick is to notice the emotion (the sensation in your body) AND the feeling (the thoughts in your mind) at the same time.
For example, if you're anxious about talking to your partner about your sexual fantasy (I'm an orgasm coach, remember?), you may notice that your heart is beating rapidly and your palms are sweaty. But you may not realize that the feeling you are experiencing is worrying about being abandoned. You may be subconsciously worried that if you tell your partner that you want them to blindfold you and tie you up and then sensually touch your body that they may think you're weird or messed up and thus want to leave you. All you know, is that your heart is beating fast.
Or maybe you're acutely aware of the fact that you are worried about your partner abandoning you because you had a past lover tell you that something was wrong with you when you shared your kink fantasies with them. You may not even realize that your shoulders are tensed up nearly to your ears and that you are hunched over trying to protect your heart.
So for this first step, whenever you notice that you are experiencing something you don't want to, pay attention to what is happening in your body and also the thoughts and feelings going through your mind.
Now that you are noticing what you are experiencing that is uncomfortable, it's time to think about what you want to feel and experience instead. This is the step that most people I work with have the most difficult time with.
If you spent a lifetime ignoring your wants and needs, suppressing your desires, and putting other people's feelings ahead of your own, then you will need to practice this step... A LOT!
You may have to dig in a little deeper into what your thoughts and feelings are from step 1. Most people default to common catch phrases such as "I have low self worth" or "I don't feel like I'm good enough." The problem with these kinds of thoughts, is that they are at the surface and you will need to get to the underlying thought.
In the example from before, the partner that was worried about talking about their sexual fantasy may not even realize that they are worried about being abandoned. They may only get to the thought "I am not a good person" or "I am not worthy of being loved." When you stay at these surface thoughts, you are usually at the level of other people's actions dictating your happiness.
In the "I am not a good person" example, in order to feel like a good person, it would require someone else to think you are a good person. Whereas, if you were to dig in a little deeper, you would realize that it's not a matter of being a good person, but rather a desire to feel accepted and belong. Now instead of you having to be something for someone else, the real desire is being yourself and having people in your life that accept you as you are.
This is when the magic begins. This is when you start accepting and loving all parts of yourself which is an integral part of healing trauma.
Now that you know what you are experiencing and what you want to experience instead, it's time to create those experiences for yourself. It will require you to look at the 4 aspects of yourself.
This is probably the easiest step because it's the most obvious. Did you get enough sleep? Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Do you need to get some sun?
If you're tired and hungry, it's probably not the best time to send that text to your partner.
This is where an embodiment practice comes in. (Embodiment means being in your body). Remember how the body snapshot is the sensations in your fascia? These snapshots are our emotions, and our emotions live in our body.
There are very few ways in which we can move stuck energy through our body. Thermal energy release is one way and is very limited in scope, but the others involve chemical potential energy or kinetic energy.1
Ever get angry? Ever get sad? You feel each of these differently and you feel them in your body, not your mind. Your body wants to release energy through either kinetic or chemical potential energy.
To release the energy, the first part is to experience the emotions that come up for you, allowing yourself to feel them. Don't try to suppress them or push them away. The goal is not to get rid of the emotion, but rather to move through it using one of many available embodiment practices.
Some of my favorite embodiment practices are dancing, breathing, yoga, shaking, EFT(Emotional Freedom Technique) or tapping, and laughing.
Until you change the way you feel and think about an event, the memories of that event will continue to impact your responses. This is why it's important to work with a therapist or coach who can help you change the way you think and feel about the events of your life. I go deeper into this in my book "Get Unstuckable," in my free .pdf "Purposeful Affirmations" (that's on my business coaching website) and also teach how to do this in my program "Quantum Sexuality."
This is the part where you connect to your inner wisdom through self compassion and consciously creating your life. It is imperative that you learn how to connect to your intuition and trust yourself.
In doing so, you learn how to set and keep boundaries with people who don't support your healing journey.
The most important thing is that you be kind and loving during the healing process. Trauma can leave you feeling ashamed, guilty, and unworthy. These negative feelings can lead to self-judgement and self-hatred and the way through these feelings and the way to change these feelings, is to develop a practice of self compassion. Self-compassion involves being gentle and understanding with yourself, even when you make mistakes and you will.
During the process of healing, you will have setbacks, fall back into old patterns, and have feelings of frustration and overwhelm. The trick is to learn how to accept your feelings and shortcomings without judgement.
It is only through practicing self-compassion that you can heal trauma more quickly and effectively.
Chances are if you're here, you're not dealing with physical trauma but emotional/relational trauma. The thing about relational trauma is that you can't heal it alone it requires the help of another person.
As mammals, we are designed to get support from others. It is the first step in regulating your nervous system. While learning how to be your best partner is imperative, it is equally important to know when to do things on your own and when to get support. Working through trauma and it's impact on your life can be very isolating and it's important to have people who understand what you're going through. These people can provide support and guidance as you work through the healing process. This is why I have group programs.
Working one-on-one with a coach or therapist will help, but working on yourself in a community of other people doing the same work, going through the same issues, and coming up against the same obstacles cannot be overlooked. Rapid transformation happens when you heal with others.
Whenever you notice yourself getting triggered or an unpleasant memory resurfacing, you are beginning the process of healing. It is in this moment that you have a choice to choose to react in ways that you have subconsciously been programmed to or you can choose to heal.
The first step is always to become aware that you are being triggered. Once you are aware, you can begin to move through the steps of healing.
You don't have to do this work alone and I encourage you to find a community or group program to do this work with. Whether or not you choose to work with me, having someone cheering you on, encouraging you, and supporting you will make it easier to take those first steps towards healing.
The truth is you'll never fully heal from all your trauma. Trauma isn't a condition that is to be cured. Trauma is built from the habit of pushing down your feelings and emotions and not letting them pass through.
Most traumatic events (whether they're the Big "T" or little stressors) have many layers to it because of the way our brains process the events of the day at night while we sleep. So each time you reprocess an emotion or feeling, there's usually another one ready to be processed right after.
Healing from trauma is a life long practice. Sometimes it can be rough, especially at the beginning when the most emotionally attached memories are just waiting to be released. But over time, the process of allowing your emotions to move through your body and compassionately allowing your thoughts to surface without shame and guilt becomes easier.
Maybe if you had a relatively easy life without many big events that caused you emotional strife you might fully heal from your trauma. But if you're like everyone I've ever worked with, your life has been full of amazing experiences full of heartfelt emotions that sometimes have made you cry and also filled your heart with joy. Life will continue to remind you of these emotional experiences so you will have your memories and emotions resurface. That means you will re-experience your trauma but with your newfound and practiced skills, those memories will no longer send you into a downward spiral but you will gracefully and compassionately reprocess them.
Be patient with yourself and the healing process. Don't try to do it all on your own and find the support you need.
If you are ready to start learning and practicing the steps of healing trauma and would like support from myself and a community of other women on their own healing journey, then please take a look at my program "Quantum Sexuality."