Trauma: what is it?
Trauma occurs when the mind-body is overwhelmed by an experience, and that experience cannot be wholly integrated. It leaves a deep imprint on the psyche that can then radically shape future experiences.
How is it experienced?
Trauma usually results in a deep sense of being unsafe. This can impact one’s general state of being, meaning that we feel a bit unsafe ALL the time. However, it is more often intensely triggered in certain contexts, with debilitating consequences.
The effects of trauma often play out sub-cognitively, that is, below the level of rational thought. As such we might say, “I know that I am safe, but I feel very unsafe.” Recent neuroscience reveals that when people are in their trauma, the areas of the brain that manage language and clear thinking - such as Broca’s area - shut-down.
Why do the impacts of trauma linger?
Everyone has difficult experiences. If we are surrounded by love and support when an event takes place, we – as a species - can often do quite well integrating it and moving forward. Trauma most often results when those experiences unfold in a situation in which one is unsupported.
Sadly, trauma regularly results from being mistreated by those who are supposed to love and care for us. In these instances one’s experience is denied: we are not allowed to feel what we feel, or know what we know. This can compound the separation between mind and body and result in the mind not being able to integrate events. In a sense, the feelings go underground and become lodged in the body/unconscious.
3 keys to working with trauma – surviving and thriving
Trauma is not a new phenomenon, and has gone by many names historically. However, in recent times divergent fields have begun to develop a common language around it. Our understanding of trauma is developing rapidly and there is an emerging consensus that a cross-discipline approach is best when working with trauma. In my work with people around trauma I encourage a three part approach, incorporating: The Body, Relational Therapy, and Creativity
1) The BODY
Trauma reaches beyond where the mind and language can go. People who have suffered trauma – in an effort to remain functional – have often learned to disconnected from their bodies. This is in part why talk therapy alone is often not enough. Things such as yoga, massage, conscious dance, and other embodiment practices are wonderfully supportive. These practices help your body slowly reset, to no longer instinctively interpret the world as a terrifying place.
2) RELATIONAL THERAPY
People who have experienced trauma often become familiar with the particular triggers that set them off. When a trauma sufferer is triggered, it can feel like being “hijacked” by the body and mind. At a deep unconscious bodily level, this person’s being has decided that the situation is unsafe.
Many of the most common triggers are relational – that is, they show up in relationship, and often undermine our capacity to form and deepen relationships. Triggers can include contexts such as someone speaking forcefully to us, the experience of needing to ask for something, communicating our desire, wanting to say “yes” or “no”.
It is in this context – where our past relationships influence our present relationships – that therapy can be very helpful. Therapy is a space where the mind and body get to experience being seen, held, heard, while being in relationship. It is a safe space in which the therapist and client can gently explore these relational edges, and the therapist can work with the client to recognize relational triggers, and develop the skills to be able to choose to stay in contact with another person – if that is what they want.
One well-documented aspect of trauma is that people who have suffered trauma can have very rigid “stories”. That is, the capacity to imagine and create new narratives for themselves becomes stilted. There is often a deep sense of “stuckness”, and endlessly repeating patterns. As therapy progresses and this rigidity softens, art – writing, drawing, photography etc – can start to introduce more psychological flexibility around what is possible, what is wanted etc.
There is no silver-bullet when it comes to healing from trauma, but by engaging on these three levels of body, relational therapy, and creativity, I have seen clients develop the capacity to open to full-hearted relationships, and claim creative control over their own lives.
If you would like to enquire about working with me, or learn more about my approach to working with trauma, please get in touch here.
A note on “Wild Mind”
Some clients with whom I have successfully worked on issues arising from trauma have told me that the name of my work – “Wild Mind” – was initially unsettling for them. For the trauma client, wild – in one sense of that word - is not what is needed.
So, in contexts like this I have learned that it is best to explain that “wild” does not mean crazy or out of control, but wild as in whole, healthy, organic, dynamic, and comfortable with movement – like the wilderness itself.