‘The so-called traumatic experience is not an accident, but the opportunity for which the child has been patiently waiting – had it not occurred, it would have found another, equally trivial – in order to find a necessity and direction for its existence, in order that its life may become a serious matter.’
– W H Auden
Rather than think of trauma as something that happens only to those in war zones, major accidents and lands of political oppression, I invite you to consider trauma as an experience many have – that’s why I appreciate the W. H. Auden quote – it’s pretty much inevitable in the day to day challenge of growing up.
Trauma is best imagined as falling on a continuum, from small “t” trauma at one end to capital “T” trauma at the other end, and everywhere in between. Capital “T” Trauma refers to the unthinkable – the sadistic, ritual sexual abuse of children, political torture, the stuff we can’t imagine happens and does; small “t” trauma is the one-time fall off a swing with a bruised elbow and a scraped knee. It’s also important to consider the sensitivity level someone has – if they experience a low level trauma but score high on sensitivity, then the impact of the trauma creeps up the scale as if had been more severe.
The aftermath of trauma can be significant, sometimes life-long, and is not something the victim can just “get over”, however much friends and family members may wish. Symptoms may include:
- flashbacks of the original trauma at inopportune or inappropriate times;
- inability to tolerate intense feelings of any kind (sadness, fear, anger, joy);
- somatisation (getting sick, having aches and pains caused by the trauma rather than anything else);a tendency to recreate the trauma unconsciously (even when it doesn’t make sense to do so, causing more pain and discomfort);
- numbing out feelings by using alcohol or other drugs
- avoiding anything to do with the trauma;
- dissociating (the body is present but the soul of who someone is absent);
- loss of flexibility in responding to life situations, being rigid, having to stick to plans and schedules without room for manouever;
- being frozen and stuck, immobility;
- changing one’s view of the world as a result of the trauma (for example, believing all men are bad, or the world is an unsafe place);
- being self-destructive;
- a deep sense of shame and vulnerability;
- difficulty in feeling “safe” in situations someone not traumatised would feel comfortable and not threatened;
- desire to withdraw from situations calling for vulnerability and/or intimacy;
- hard to trust others, even when no evidence of untrustworthiness exists;
- deep holding of the musculature of the body, in an effort to keep perceived danger at bay, with the resultant chronic tension wreaking havoc with the body’s ability to be present and powerful.
Challenging, to say the least. Every reason to seek out a specialist for guidance through the healing and recovery process, for this is not something that can be done alone. Most trauma happens in relationship, and calls for the healing to be done in relationship as well. If you would like to meet for a brief period of time to just get a felt-sense of whether we are a good fit or not – you’re welcome to call, email or contact me to set this up with me.
When I lived in California I spent four years in intensive training with Staci Haines in the generative somatics model for healing and resolving trauma, and continue in ongoing supervision with her. This forms the basis of my approach and I have extensive experience working with clients in the US and UK.
To give you a brief overview of what the generative somatics process involves, I’ll describe the five stages that follow the initial assessment. My first concern will be to find out how well you are functioning today, what support systems you have in place, how you access a sense of “being the best you can be” (however impaired or inadequate that may feel), what supports you spiritually, emotionally, physically. It’s only when we both know you have enough of a foundation in place that we can move to the first stage of healing which is concerned with increasing your awareness of sensation in the body, and establishing why, really why you want to commit to the transformation from victim to survivor and beyond.
Everything we know from the latest neuroscience research supports what we know instinctively: the body, the breath, sensation, being in the present, experiencing this moment – these are all our most useful resources for being effective, for being in flow, for feeling our most alive, productive and creative. Since trauma tightens and constricts the body, preparing it appropriately for fight-flight-freeze, unwinding that process requires access to the sensations of the body, allowing it to relax, unfold and loosen as trust is built and more and more safety is experienced. Working with whatever is your particular “safety strategy” (holding your breath? retreating? curling up? getting small?) forms part of the next stage, which in turn creates a platform for us to do the deep emotional work. This is not about diving into the deep end, reliving every memory, becoming incapacitated, having to stay home in bed …. this is about gradually, respectfully, gently, carefully unpacking the past bit by bit in a manageable and functional manner.
From this fourth stage there is now the capacity to explore the deeply satisfying experience of how it is to truly connect with another, experience deep intimacy. And with this comes the opportunity to heal shame at a fundamental level, for shame, like the original trauma, was created in relationship and must be healed in relationship. We conclude the work with a clear intention around what new practices and habits you need to be in to maintain the new embodied shape you have created along the way – this is likely to include physical practices such as yoga, pilates, running, walking, meditation and so on but what is important is that it be something you enjoy and can maintain enthusiastically.
What I find hard to articulate is the possibility for change, deep change, that this process can provide. It reminds me of a time when my therapist asked me what it was like to holiday on the moon. What?! Having never visited the moon, how could I describe it? She helped me understand that the quality of life possible is as hard to imagine as somewhere you’ve never visitied – but knowing where you want to visit, knowing what quality of life you want to have, well that may be possible to imagine. Do you want to have a mutually satisfying, enriching, fun, sexy, vital relationship? Do you want to enjoy a rewarding, fulfilling, challenging career? Do you want to renew connections with friends from the past but with a different perspective – being bolder, clearer, asking for and getting your needs met, deepening meaning and intimacy? What else do you want?