Understanding how the body responds to trauma

How do we define trauma? Trauma is essentially defined as a psychological and emotional response to an event or an experience that is considered disturbing or distressing. Many human beings experience a traumatic event at some point in their lives. Some individuals may have lasting symptoms from these experiences while others do not experience symptoms at all.

All living creatures are neurologically, physiologically, and biologically designed to experience and survive traumatic events. The neurological, physiological and biological systems are genetically coded to discharge the experiences we have that obstruct or interfere with the natural evolutionary process of the human body.

When an individual is faced with a dangerous situation, the neurological, physiological, and biological systems instinctually take over. These systems begin in the most primitive parts of the brain located in the limbic system and brainstem. They release cortisol and adrenaline as the body is put in a high state of alert. This sends blood into the muscles to enable the individual to engage in a fight or flight response.

At the same time, these neurological, physiological, and biological systems also cause our muscles to contract so that our body can protect us from harm. The psoas muscles are some of the muscles that play an important part in the fight/flight response. These muscles remain contracted until the danger is over. This generally happens by the means of a tremoring, which is the body’s natural ability to discharge excess energy. This tremoring response allows individuals to heal and build resilience for future traumatic experiences.

Many reasons contribute to why an individual may be unable to discharge the energy of the traumatic event. For example, as a society we culturally overemphasize the mind being in control, and we discourage signs of weakness or vulnerability. This has led to the deadening of this shaking mechanism so that it no longer reduces muscle tension. This often happens to adult victims of abuse. In the case of children, if they are the victim of abuse, they may not be able to discharge this energy from the body due to fear of the perpetrator. If the body is unable to tremor, then the muscles remain contracted, often the psoas muscle. This leads to the charge not being released. Neuroscience has shown that the body stores the unreleased charge. The body then memorizes it and creates dysfunctional patterns. These patterns become habitual responses that affect the mind, body and emotions.

The psoas is connected to the low back and diaphragm. If this muscle is in constant flexion due to traumatic stress, then this can lead to chronic low back pain, as well as affect the ability of the breath system to function properly as it affects the diaphragm. If breath is shortened and shallow, then this alleviates the heart rate and leads to heightened arousal. This can lead to emotional distress including anxiety, fear, and irritability.

Neuroscience has also shown that the body is resilient and can release the stored trauma. Many somatic approaches assist the body in tremoring so that stored charges from traumatic events can be released. Many therapeutic approaches assist the mind in processing the traumatic experience so that habitual patterns are identified, as well as the belief systems that developed in response to the traumatic experience. Neuroscience has identified ways to rewire the brain to shift these belief systems as well as make it possible for individuals to have more agency to make choices, to free themselves from  habitual responses.

If this way of working is intriguing to you, please feel free to contact me for a free 20 minute consultation at allison@blossomingheartcounseling.com or 503-880-7190.