I was chatting recently with someone struggling to deal with a loved one suffering from trauma. It’s never easy for the sufferer or those around them but a bit of understanding and appreciation of how and why people are traumatised can go a long way to ease the impacts. And really, we can all suffer varying degrees of trauma from experiences that are a part of everyday life.
A few hundred million years of evolution has ensured that our strongest physiological reactions have become those most likely to preserve our genetic lineage. Specifically, we’ve inherited the instincts and biological reactions to mitigate threats to our survival and reproductive success.
If we find ourselves in a threatening situation where we feel helpless to control the outcome, it can lead to trauma. Our subconscious mind learns that if we can’t mitigate the immediate threat through fight or flight then instead, we must avoid the circumstance.
If a spider drops on our shoulder or we put our hand on a hot stove, the subconscious mind activates a response long before the conscious mind realises what’s going on. For those suffering from trauma, the fight or flight response is engaged to avoid circumstances familiar to a past threat, regardless of any actual threat exists.
Symptoms of trauma can manifest themselves in ways entirely unforeseen by the sufferer and those around them. Most often as reaction to a person or a behaviour but even a sight, sound or smell can trigger a reaction not requiring conscious agency. The reaction is involuntary and mostly unwarranted leaving both the sufferer and often those they love, feeling confused and often ashamed.
Only once the body settles can we consciously reflect on why and how these reactions occur. Discussing and imagining how we might better control and avoid those threats previously experienced can help ease future reactions.
Anticipation and understanding are key. Trauma can be managed but it never fully disappears. Our biology is too powerful to let that happen and for that we can be thankful once we appreciate how it tries to help us.
In cases of deep trauma, even the process of self reflection can re-trigger an adverse reaction. These people need an ultra-safe environment, good professional support and possibly medication to address root causes. Medication however should be viewed as a life preserver, it can save us when we’re drowning but it won’t teach us to swim.
Trained, experienced therapists focus on creating the safe environment that allow people to come back into themselves and build inward trust. It’s not a coincidence that the best therapists are often those who can empathise with sufferers through personal experience.
Qualified Craniosacral therapists can help rebuild through a first step toward a connecting mind and body in a safe environment. If you’d like to learn more you can follow the link below.
What you’ve just read were some insights gained from an excellent book by Dr. Bessel Van Kolk, ‘The Body Holds the Score: Brain Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma’