This article is going to be jam packed with information about trauma responses, how it gets stored in the body and the necessity for talk therapy in CONJUNCTION with body – based therapies.
Although this article does not include specific examples of trauma from real life people, it may still be triggering to some. Pay attention to your breath, and if you find yourself tensing, take a break and come back to it when you are ready.
But please do come back…because trauma education is the number one thing you can do to gain a sense of empowerment and let go of the shame around completely natural trauma responses.
Are you ready?
Before we get into the itty bitty details, I want to talk a little about the concept of trauma.
I feel like so many people misunderstand the word trauma. And that is because of the stigma we have around mental health. And I mean…the fact that the psycho-therapeutic community as a whole has a billion different definitions of trauma…
There is a lot of misinformation, and the language around it has actually been found to cause more harm than good.
First off, I want to stress the fact that trauma is a completely natural response to highly adverse emotional experiences. Trauma symptoms are just your brain and body trying to keep you safe from it ever happening again. It is simply something we have to work through to live our most full lives.
So what is trauma?
My most holistic and all encompassing definition is by Mastin Kipp:
Notice how he states trauma is an experience and that it dysregulates you?
Well dysregulation is just a call to get back into a regulated state. Plain and simple.
We do that by having different healing tools in our back pocket. Ones that work for us, not ones that are forced upon us.
That means if you can’t meditate, then you don’t have to do it! Forcing yourself to meditate when you have an overactive thinking mind and haven’t cleared out the emotional “debris”, actually does more harm than good.
There are so many tools you can use that work specifically for YOU. There is no one size fits all approach to healing.
There does have to be the desire to heal though, because I’m not going to say that trauma work is all sunshine and daisies, at the end of the day it is WORK. You will look at parts of yourself that are painful to look at, feel into emotions that you have been avoiding for most of your life and sift through some heavy shit.
But at the end of it all, you will come out lighter, happier and freer.
I also want to be clear, trauma is not about the event, it’s about the individual perception of the event. Meaning, everyone can experience a traumatic event differently, make different meanings out of it and create different beliefs around it.
That is why trauma cannot be “measured”. It impacts everyone differently. Just like everyone has a unique DNA sequence, and unique bodies with different shapes and sizes, we also have different ways our brains and bodies process emotional experiences.
The current mental health model is lacking. It does not take into account people’s background, culture, how they grew up or the way they may process trauma.
There is no one size fits all approach to healing because every individual is so profoundly different.
That’s where Somatic Psychotherapy comes in…
The word Somatic means “relating to the body” and psychotherapy is regular talk therapy.
In other words… what you normally go to a therapist for. To talk about what you want to work on and intellectually process these thoughts in order to form better behaviors.
Many may have heard the term “we carry our issues in our tissues”…and science is truly backing it up.
For those of you that are in your heads a lot, hold anxiety and intrusive thoughts, body based therapy is especially beneficial because there is no way for you to “overthink” and run a scenario in your head a billion times.
Whatever we suppress gets expressed. If we have a lot of anger, and we suppress it, it’s going to seep out of us in our everyday life.
There’s a lot of freedom in “releasing,” and somatic therapy can help access the places in the body where we are holding onto things and experiencing physical, psychic, and emotional discomfort or pain.
It mixes body based therapy and talk therapy as one, treating the individual as a whole as opposed to separated parts.
What this means for the current medical paradigm, is that it puts the healing on the individual’s body. Meaning that since we all process and hold trauma in different ways, somatic therapy utilizes the wisdom of their body to unlock it. Personalizing healing to that person and releasing what needs to be released.
You see, when trauma occurs, our bodies activate a protective mechanism. A stressor that is too much for a person to handle overloads the nervous system, stopping the trauma from processing
This overload halts the body in its instinctive fight or flight response, causing the traumatic energy to be stored in the surrounding muscles, organs and connective tissue.
Whenever we store trauma in our tissue, our brain disconnects from that part of the body to block the experience (this is called disassociation), preventing the recall of the traumatic memory.
Any area of our body that our brain is disconnected from won’t be able stay healthy or heal itself. It is thought that the predictable effect of stored trauma is degeneration and disease, in some capacity.
There is ample scientific evidence proving memory storage in locations other than the brain abound.
Three examples of the body containing extraordinary memory capabilities are:
1. Immune system response is enhanced by memory T-cells maintaining information about previous attacks by specific foreign antigens
2. Muscle memory
3. DNA/cellular memory possess a complex information storage system
When considering the vastness of our body’s intelligence, it is no wonder that our muscles and fascia are capable of holding memories
This is why verbal therapy alone isn’t enough to clear stored trauma, somatic (meaning body-based) tools are needed to help regulate the nervous system and emotionally heal trauma.
A simple example of how the body and nervous system have a mind of its own, is when you “logically” know something, yet your body reacts in ways that say otherwise.
This could look like a socially anxious person logically “knowing” they are safe and that the people at the party won’t physically harm them, yet their body is holding onto emotional trauma most likely caused by other people.
The body then increases their heart rate, their breath quickens and they start dissociating or entering into “fight or flight”.
It’s one thing to logically know something, and it is another to wholeheartedly FEEL it. Or in more precise terminology, for your nervous system to know it.
Believe it or not, we see this trauma response in other mammals as well…
Dr. Peter Levine, one of the originators in the field of somatic therapy, and author of the book Waking the Tiger, describes how after a hunt, female lions (who do all the hunting for the pride), wrestle around with each other extensively to help their bodies “complete” the stress response that comes from the hunt itself.
When you have that much adrenaline in your system, your body has to process it.
In a society where we hide our emotions and are GO, GO,GO, that just doesn’t happen.
We are all a little guilty of this, when we get stressed, we tend to hold it in—and then we go to coffee or alcohol or social media or whatever it is that we use to check out a little bit. But that cortisol, that adrenaline, stays in our system and the only way to release it is through movement, just like the female lions do with wrestling.
If we fail to release the excess energy, it stays in our bodies and wreaks havoc on our nervous system. Which is responsible for regulation.
You could look at the wrestling of the female lions as a form of somatic therapy. Things we used to do primitively to get away from a threat include running, climbing, jumping, swimming, shaking, dancing—all kinds of movement help to complete that stress response, to move it through. Otherwise, it gets stored somewhere
Somatic Psychotherapy not only takes into account what you are thinking, but it pays attention to what the BODY has to say; rather than whatever “logical” explanation the mind concocts. Since our bodies store SO much information, more often than not our bodies can tell us more than our thinking mind.
Why is this?
Because our bodies don’t have a perceptual filter. And sometimes, our unconscious mind will intentionally block traumatic memories from resurfacing to keep us safe.
But our bodies remember.
This is why combining somatic (meaning body-based) and verbal therapy can successfully bring a trauma to completion.
Somatic Therapy taps into your unconscious memories, past trauma and repressed emotions. It unlocks them.
Then talk therapy instills you with the development of the inner resources needed for navigating and responding to the traumatic experience.
The Somatic therapist is trained to help you do both. Tap into your body to release the trauma, then make meaning out of these experiences and integrate them in a way that allows you to live a lighter, anxiety-free life.
Some forms of somatic therapies include: Breathwork, certain bodywork styles, trauma-informed yoga, and embodiment practices.
Just please make sure you do your research, read reviews and make sure you feel SAFE with them. Always ask if the facilitators if they are trauma-informed and how long their credentialing program was for.
Lastly, before you do any of this work, Three things are necessary for the body to release stored trauma:
- The inner resources to handle the experience that were not in place when the experience originally occurred. Also, this can be an expanded state of awareness as breathwork induces. If you don’t feel like you have any inner resources or tools in your back-pocket, I recommend you see a somatic psychotherapist or see a regular therapist in conjunction with your somatic practices.
- Space for the traumatic energy to dissolve into when released. Being full of tension and stress does not allow the necessary spaciousness for the stored trauma to move.
- Reconnection of the brain with the area of the body where the trauma is stored. (i.e Full Embodiment)
For all of this to even start occurring, a sense of safety has to be present.
Safety is the key
If we don’t feel safe in the world, we can’t fully engage with another person—be it a friend, family member, lover, or therapist.
On a physiological level, if we don’t feel safe, our body won’t function optimally, our nervous system is running haywire and there is no room for growth or expansion because your body is just trying to survive. We want to get you to a state of THRIVING. Not just surviving.
So, if you’re experiencing anxiety—or you’re stressed or depressed—any of the emotions that society deems as “bad”, really what it comes down to is that physiologically, you don’t feel safe.
And when you’re not feeling safe, coming to a place where you can feel safe within, is the most important thing for healing.
Again, this could be different for everyone, so trying out different regulation practices until you find one that’s right for you is so important.
Wow that was a mouthful! Lol
I do hope this article helped clear up any questions you may have around somatics, trauma, and the mind + body connection.
Also, always feel free to send me a DM on instagram or shoot me an email if you have any questions. I’m here to help.
Until next time my loves XO