Understanding Trauma

Well, it has certainly been awhile since my last post, and be prepared that the energy might feel like a radical shift.  Today I am brimming over with curiosity and thought of an uplifting nature, and though I am grateful for my blog as a space to share insights regardless of their color or shade, it always feels easier to share thought of a lighter nature or brighter color:-)

So, Trauma.  Light enough for ya?  Kidding (is this something we can kid about?).  Political correctness aside, I am currently engaged in a Trauma study intensive and it really is so very inspiring!

Though the Trauma study has intensified in the last 2 months, I have been studying it for the past 12 years (just not always as “formally” as I have been for the past 5).  Of late, my study has included listening to a Rethinking Trauma series, with Neuroscientists, Research Psychologists and/or Clinical psycho-somatic Psychologists such as Pat Ogden, Dan Siegle, Peter Levine, and Stephen Porges, amongst others, all leading in the field of somatic therapies to heal trauma.  To supplement this, I am reading Norman Doidge’s new book “The Brain’s Way of Healing”, which is full of trauma healing material, and also reading more spiritually based material that recounts trauma with a different, yet just as relevant language.  I am also working with my own somatic therapist to deal with personal trauma, and alongside that studying different somatic therapies such as sound healing, Acutonics and regularly attending Five Rhythms Dance classes.  So, to say the least, EEK, I’m overflowing with inspiration and living experience about how to work with trauma to help myself and others grow through and from it.

As an aside, I used to be nervous about considering any of my life experiences as traumatic, as I’ve always associated the word trauma with devastating events such as war, rape, or tragic accidents; however, traumatic experiences, like any comparable experience in life, exist on a spectrum, and regardless of where on the spectrum your painful experiences fall, healing from them is wise, skillful and compassionate action.

It feels a very exciting time to be studying the healing arts in general, as our current technologies and ways of sharing information are allowing dots to connect at an exceptional rate. Different and varying fields are working together to create a great symphony of healing techniques, deepening and strengthening their overall effect and our collective wisdom and capacity for radical transformation: from environmental sciences, to somatic sciences, to creativity and the arts, to therapy, to quantum physics, to spirituality, to nutrition, to community, to the past, present and future!!  It takes real humanity to step back, breath, laugh, cry and then re-engage in this intense and exciting realm of learning, but in my experience it is WORTH IT!

So, what I really wanted to share was this little thought byte about how I’ve come to understand trauma.  Me reiterating my learning through this blog will hopefully help both of us to better understand it 🙂

Here’s how I perceive trauma: an experience is rendered traumatic when either  a) the type of information entering our system is exceptionally unpalettetable or foreign to our being, b) the intensity of the information entering our system is so pressing that we can not assimilate it at a sustainable rate and therefore “pieces” of the experience become attached in a disassociated way to our being, or c) during the intense experience our instinctive and natural responses and/or reactions were inhibited or shut down, leaving this reaction frozen in the past (but still attached to us) as our being requires the empowerment of completing this reaction.  I would like to point out I am not limiting the “overwhelming information” to physical experiences.  It is my understanding that our being perceives and processes experiences physically, emotionally, ethereally/spiritually and mentally, and that PTSD and Trauma can be healed by engaging any of these aspects of ourselves, and in fact is exponentially healed when we work simultaneously with multiple aspects of our self (such as somatic therapy that combines body-mind techniques, or by combining spirit-body work…and truly, they are inseparable).

I have found it visually useful to compare trauma to an allergy response in our digestive system.  An allergy response is when our body perceives a piece of food information (or food byte) as foreign, and assails an inflammatory, defense response against it.  For what ever reason, the body has identified this food byte as dangerous, and sometimes the body responds so defensively that it almost kills the very being it is trying to protect…itself.  Some people have had success slowly, slowly, and even slower still re-introducing the tiniest samples of this “dangerous” food byte, bite by bite (funny/clever right!),  while allowing the body to build up tolerance in a peaceful, calm fashion; until, eventually, this food becomes properly digestible and agreeable.  Still, others choose to manage the inflammatory response by simply knowing what it is that triggers them and avoiding it altogether (if possible).  Both approaches generally work, though I have heard of some people not finding a safe and slow way to support the body in developing a tolerant response to severe allergies…obviously there is a lot more to the story than just this (as is also the case in healing from trauma; we are all very unique and deserve personalized care and support).

Well, traumatic triggers can be treated in a similar fashion, especially when working psycho-somatically (think Yoga Therapy, Somatic Experiencing, Somatic Psychotherapy, and so on).  You can either clearly identify your triggers and just stay clear of them (again if possible), or work with the affects from trauma to slowly, slowly and even slower still (and in a nurturing, supportive, solid and loving environment) digest, assimilate and integrate these painfully disassociated and fragmented experiences back into your system, to experience wholeness.

You can also work spiritually to heal from trauma.  There are many energy medicine modalities you can engage, such as Reiki, BodyTalk, Shamanic Practices, Cranio-sacral, and so on; however, as Shamanic practices are the ones I am most familiar with, I will only describe some of them here.  From a shamanic perspective, when we experience a trauma, pieces of our soul/essence can become left behind, almost like they are entangled in the past experience, and we feel pain/dis-ease in the present moment as we have “lost” a piece of ourselves.  A skilled and power-filled shaman or medicine-man/woman can help retrieve these lost parts of our soul/essence by helping us re-member ourselves.  Shamanic healing happens outside of time/space, and so the disassociated piece is located (with the help of compassionate spirits) and then re-connected to our being.  I know that working in this way is not a language many of us who grew up learning; however most of us, if not all of us, have descended from peoples who engaged these ancient and potent healing techniques.  Although I am generally an advocate of “don’t knock it ’till you try it”, I ultimately trust your own capacity to discern what is most useful for you on your personal healing journey.  I do however, hope you can find at bare minimum a small space to keep your mind open to the mysteries of this thing called life.  I mean, the best sciences we have today (quantum physics) rationally states that we can only explain less than 2% of the KNOWN Universe!  Also, I find it exciting to notice the parallels (and differences) between shamanic and psycho-somatic approaches: both are working to help clients assimilate parts of their past they are disassociated from, while they are going about it from different angles (or with different languages).  (Current research shows that talk therapy alone is not enough to realistically help clients heal from Trauma; instead layering up modalities, such as engaging our bodies, minds, and spirits in healing work is what leads to measurable results…YES TO WHOLENESS!).

Back to trauma in general.  I think it is also important to point out that it’s totally understandable that our body-minds react in an inflammatory fashion to past traumas being retriggered and therefore relived in the present; those very reactions were what worked to keep us alive or safe (even socially) at times when we were under-resourced to witness and deal with such intense events.  If we are uncompassionate to ourselves about our tendencies to get inflamed or shut down when re-triggered, its as if we’re getting angry at ourselves for having an allergic reaction…and what’s the point of that!  In fact, most of us are triggered neuroceptively, which means from information that our nervous systems react to before we even become consciously aware of it!  These reactions need firstly our compassion, and secondly a realistic plan and support to overcome them, enabling us to feel empowered and connected to our present lives, not shut-down and trapped in our past.

So, I hope I’ve inspired self-compassion if you dealing with PTSD or other inflammatory responses, and compassion for others you may know who have experienced trauma.  If you or someone you know is dealing with trauma, including social trauma like experiences of bullying or alienation, I can’t recommend enough working with a mindful somatic therapist/bodyworker; skilled and power-filled shaman/medicine-man/woman; and/or accessing some of the reading or video material by the professionals I listed above.

I truly do believe that we come into this life with all the resources we need to meet our life’s challenges, including the capacity to ask for help!!  Working to overcome trauma is definitely an area where activating our self-compassion and activating an other’s compassion by asking them for help is of potent benefit to ourselves and others we are role-models for.  The heart is truly the pump of greatest transformation, so lets support one-another in igniting it!


Love and Blessings, and Thanks for reading!


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