Safety IS the Treatment
“Trauma is a disconnection from ourself and the present moment in response to traumatic events. The good news is that we can reconnect in any moment.” Dr Maté
We are using the term trauma in reference to psychology, the brain, and the nervous system, not a physical wound. People often avoid facing trauma because it is so painful. We have already lived through the traumatic event or period but still feel the negative effects in our life. Dr. Peter Levine refers to trauma as a dysregulation of the nervous system. It is possible to heal the nervous system and enjoy life after trauma.
We are all somewhere on the continuum of how greatly we have been affected by abuse, neglect and traumatic events. There are no downsides to exploring issues and suffering through a trauma lens first. As we heal and reconnect with ourselves, our window of tolerance widens and find we are able to stay in the present moment. Balancing and strengthening our nervous system is beneficial regardless of whether our issues are caused by unresolved trauma or something else. Developing resilience and resourcing our brain is always helpful. We move out into the world of social trust. Our minds become calmer and less driven. Safety IS the treatment.
Adverse Childhood Experiences Score (ACES). Researchers at the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) discovered in the 1990s that childhood neglect and trauma were far more pervasive than previously thought. Trauma has a lasting impact, negatively affecting all areas of people’s lives including physical and mental health, finances, violence, and addiction.
Survival Response: Fight/Flight/Freeze Automatic processes generated in our primitive brain to ensure our physical survival. It activates when we perceive danger. People with trauma in their background are often stuck on yellow or red alert causing a multitude of problems.
Shock or Crisis Trauma refers to a terrifying event where a person experiences or witnesses a threat to their life or that of someone close to them. This can happen to a person at any age. First Responders and people in the military may experience this type of trauma in their work.
Chronic trauma refers to and includes neglect and abuse that occurs repeatedly over a long period of time. People experiencing chronic trauma may also have incidents of crisis or shock trauma where they feel their life is at risk.
Developmental or Childhood Trauma occurs when a child experiences or witnesses multiple exposures to abuse, abandonment or betrayal, and does not experience safe, consistent caretaking. The developing brain and nervous system are affected negatively. In addition, positive development fails to happen as it would if the child was safe and cared for. The effects of Developmental Trauma continue into adult life. People with Developmental Trauma who are highly affected in adult life may be diagnosed with Complex PTSD.
PTSD or PTS: Post Traumatic Stress (Disorder) Post traumatic stress happens to everyone after a shocking, scary or dangerous event. Depending on treatment, severity and length of exposure, and trauma background, it can develop into PTSD. This includes people in war and domestic situations. Symptoms include hypervigilance, flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety. A background in childhood of Developmental Trauma can set the stage for acute PTSD later in life.
Post Traumatic Growth and Resilience Most people recover from shock or crisis trauma within several months and some even experience Post Traumatic Growth and increased resilience. Dr. Martin Seligman is a pioneer in the emerging field of positive psychology that researches effective ways to increase our resilience and mental strength before and after traumatic events. Dr Rick Hanson is a psychologist specializing in resilience. Watch a clip from my interview with him here.
Fear of Trauma Stored In our Body We store unresolved trauma in our bodies. The original traumatic experience felt life-threatening. That is why our system protected us from feeling it. The next step is to be sure we never feel that threat and terror again. We suppress it out of fear.
Social Trust and Connection Our neuroception, the brain’s perception of threat, is skewed with trauma. Our brains develop neural pathways for trust and only our experience is that connection is safe. When we are hurt, abused or neglected we don’t develop those neural networks. We are an evidence based system. New experiences of connection heal our brain.
Anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health problems. These disorders can be successfully treated so it is important to recognize the difference between being anxious in response to a real event, and an anxiety disorder which produces fear or distress that is out of proportion to the situation.
Depression can limit your quality of life, affect relationships, lead to lost time from work or school and contribute to other chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart diseases. Sometimes it leads to suicide. Fortunately, for most people, depression can be treated effectively.
Comprehensive, easy to understand resource on trauma: The Body Keeps The Score, Dr Bessel van der Kolk