As practitioners, when we touch the body we touch the trauma. This is because strong emotions associated with trauma can become locked into the muscles and other soft tissues in the body. This creates what is known as ‘armour’ – literally physical tensions that correspond to the way we have organised and tightened our bodies in order not to show or to protect ourselves from the emotion we are feeling.
Trauma is not only something we experience from big, one off shock events. It is also anything which happens to us which is too fast, too much or too soon. The cumulative effects of daily stresses as we are going up, multiplied over many years, can lead to big impacts on us when we are in our adult bodies.
Did you know? Trauma is in the body, not in the event
For example, if a child is punished for expressing her emotional needs, she may pretend that she doesn’t have any, and that she is ‘fine’ as this may seem like a safer option. As an adult, she may have difficulty with connecting with her body and noticing the emotional states she is experiencing on a visceral level.
The nervous system on trauma
When we experience a traumatic event, or series of events, energy is mobilised by the body to deal with whatever threat – real or imagined – is happening. If that energy is not discharged, it can become stuck in the system and loop around indefinitely.
This can make the nervous system dis-regulated. When this happens, we are likely to experience endless cycles of hypo to hyper arousal. This means that we can swing from feeling depressed and lethargic to feeling anxious and panicky. Other symptoms include addictions, compulsions, loss of interest in life, sexual dysfunctions, impulsivity and many more.
Importance of safety in healing
In order for clients to heal from trauma, safety is of the utmost importance. This means creating a space that looks, sounds and feels peaceful and as safe as it can. The practitioner’s body language, tone of voice and choice of language also all play an important role. The kind of touch that the therapist gives also plays a role – touch that feels loving, nurturing and non-judgmental has the capacity to heal. Creating a safe space helps the nervous system to shift into the parasympathetic ‘rest and digest’ mode.
Did you know? The body has nervous systems for preparing us for action, controlling the body at rest, and controlling the bowel
Touch that feels calm and loving helps to down-regulate the nervous system. When the therapist begins bodywork, they may apply deeper pressure to areas that hold pain and tension. By focusing on the breath and the area which is receiving touch, the client is able to start to notice what is happening in the area. Often, this will bring up emotions or memories that have been stuck in the past, at the time of the traumatic event.
At this point, it is important that the client is not taken more deeply into their trauma than they are able to handle, and that they are helped to keep coming back to their body and to something which feels good for them. Loving touch is one such resource. It reminds clients that what happened is in the past, and that they are safe right here and now.
Did you know? Your brain has about 100 billion neurons – about as many stars as the Milky Way galaxy
This helps to re-train the nervous system by literally re-wiring the brain. Because of neuroplasticity of the brain, it means that it never stops learning and making new connections over the duration of our lifetimes, giving us the opportunity to learn to respond in new ways.
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