Fight, flight or freeze - the options available to us when we are trapped in what we are experiencing as a life threatening situation; oftentimes, we are young, vulnerable, dependent, and the only option is to close down, just as happens when we experience intense emotional shock.
Wild animals can literally shake off this powerful, frozen energy and resume their lives. We humans have largely lost touch with this natural mechanism and continue to hold the frozen energy of fear and aggressive within our bodies, within our cells and tissues, where it continues to control our lives, even after the original event has been lost to memory.
What we experience as traumatic is very personal - a commonplace event to an adult may be life threatening from the viewpoint of a child. Surgery may be accepted by the mind but be experienced as an attack by the body tissue. What one person finds exhilarating another may find terrifying...
We have survived but not released... as we attempt to adapt, the frozen energy may appear as denial, dissociation, irrational fear, helplessness, powerlessness. We may feel numb, separate, unconnected or we may be in a perpetual state of anxiety, unable to relax, defensive, scared of life. We may carry on with our lives for years before we become aware of the effects that we carry. Unrecognised, the symptoms may deepen and worsen.
As a healer, I am committed to wholeness in body, mind and spirit. I have recovered from trauma - it is not an irreversible condition. Together, we work in the realms of the deeper, instinctive part of the mind. We work with healing energy, with the inner sense of feeling awareness and with the natural desire of the organism to become whole, whenever it is given the opportunity. We're moving towards accepting the experiential reality of what is true, releasing what we no longer require, forgiving our oppressors when appropriate and entering into a new state of self acceptance and wholeness where our whole self is present and all possibilities are again available.
The range of possible individual symptoms of trauma is very large and are listed at some length below. I also offer Soul Retrieval therapy as this gives an alternative approach, taking place in one session, that is particularly suitable when part of one's consciousness has split off from the shock or horror of an event. So intense is the experience, we can easily carry the effects of a traumatic experience from a past life, and this, also, can be addressed using Past Life therapy.
Obvious causes of trauma include:
- Severe childhood physical, emotional or sexual abuse.
- Neglect, betrayal or abandonment during childhood.
- Experiencing or witnessing violence.
- Emotional shock.
- Catastrophic injury and illness.
- Natural disasters.
Less obvious potential causes include a wide variety of seemingly ordinary events:
- Being left alone, especially in babies and young children.
- Invasive medical and dental procedures, particularly when performed on children who are restrained or anaesthetized.
- Falls, especially when children or elderly people are involved.
- Illness, especially when there is high fever or poisoning.
- Prolonged immobilization, especially in children.
- Exposure to extreme heat of cold, especially in babies and children.
- Sudden loud noises, especially in babies and children.
- Birth stress, for both mother and infant.
- Minor car accidents
The first symptoms that are likely to develop during or immediately after an overwhelming event include hyperarousal, constriction, dissociation and denial, as well as feelings of helplessness, immobility or freezing.
Hyperarousal may show as an increase in heart rate, sweating, difficult breathing (rapid, shallow, panting etc), cold sweats, tingling or muscular tension. It may also show as repetitous thoughts, racing mind and worry.
Constriction in our bodies and a narrowing of perceptions, which ensures that all our efforts can be focused on the threat in an optimum way.
Dissociation and denial protects us from being overwhelmed by escalating arousal, fear and pain, enabling a person to endure experiences that are at that moment beyond endurance; denial disconnects the person from the memory of, or feelings about, an event so that we act as though nothing untoward had happened because the emotions linked with the event are too painful.
Feelings of helplessness, immobility and freezing leading to an experience of utter collapse and inertia.
Other early symptoms can include:
- Hypervigilance (being 'on guard' at all times).
- Intrusive images or flashbacks.
- Extreme sensitivity to light and sound.
- Exaggerated emotional and startle responses.
- Nightmares / difficulty sleeping.
- Abrupt mood swings (rage reactions, frequent anger or crying).
- Shame and lack of self worth.
- Reduced ability to deal with stress.
Later symptoms may not show up for months or even years:
- Panic attacts, anxiety and phobias.
- Spaced-out feelings.
- Avoidance of place, activities, movements, memories or people.
- Attraction to dangerour situations.
- Addictive behaviours (over-eating, drinking, smoking etc).
- Exaggerated or diminishes sexual activity.
- Amnesia and forgetfulness.
- Inability to love, nurture or bond with other people.
- Fear of dying.
- Loss of sustaining spiritual, religious, interpersonal beliefs.
Finally, symptoms that take longer to develop, which may have been preceeded by earlier symptoms:
- Excessive shyness.
- Diminished emotional responses.
- Inability to make commitments.
- Chronic fatigue of very low energy.
- Immune system problems/thyroid malfunction/environmental sensitivities.
- Psychosomatic illnesses.
- Chronic pain (including lower back).
- Skin disorders.
- Digestive problems.
- Severe PMT.
- Depression and feelings of impending doom.
- Feelings of detachment, alienation or isolation.
- Reduced ability to formulate plans.
I'd like to emphasize that none of these symptoms are necessarily the result of trauma, nor will trauma necessarily result in any of these symptoms.
When we experience emotional shock or a potentially traumatic situation, we have three instinctive choices - fight, flight or freeze. If we are able to complete the response that we make, just as wild animals do, we will be none the worse for our experience and will be able to get on with our lives. If our response is not completed - especially after freezing - the energy, the fear, stress and high arousal, will remain locked in our bodies, in our tissues, with no means of release. Because of the intensity of the feelings associated with our 'locked down' responses, out of fear and self protection we will tend to suppress what we continue to hold and try to avoid contact with it.
The important thing to realize is that, if you are experiencing symptoms of trauma, your body is calling for help. Your body needs to complete it's process to be free again. You don't have to remember an event to heal from it. Because trauma happens primarily on an instinctive level, the memories we have of overwhelming events are stored as fragmentary experiences in our bodies, not the rational parts of our brains. When we access our body memories using sensing/feeling, we can begin to release the instinctive survival energy that we were unable to use at the time. The discharge can be dramatic and visible or subtle and quiet. You may begin to feel calmer and relaxed, with a subtle deepening of your sense of well-being. Your more obvious symptoms may begin to improve. The effects of trauma can be healed.