Trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post traumatic stress is experienced in varying degrees and its symptoms are also varied from seemingly constant mild anxiety to acute anxiety and hyper vigilance, where the nervous system is running on overdrive.

An accident, incident, abuse or violation of a boundary can produce or reveal extreme vulnerability where anger and/or rage become a form of protection from very vulnerable emotions. The positive in the anger and rage is that one is attempting to regain a sense of personal power. However, without the appropriate help and support these feelings can be very difficult to deal with and depression may become a way of shutting down these extreme feelings.

Trauma can be defined as any experience that a child or adult finds far too overwhelming or unbearable, and common to the survival of traumatic events is to dissociate from the felt sense of the body during the trauma. This often happens by becoming numb as a natural survival response to shock. Then, in order to continue the psychological survival of the trauma, one may repress, deny or dissociate from the feelings associated with the specific trauma, including what it took to survive the trauma, and any other underlying feelings triggered by the trauma. This is why PTSD can sometimes be quite complex.

Dissociation from feelings can cause displacement of feelings onto the body. The body now becomes the vehicle of emotional and psychological pain, as well as any remaining physical pain, and so further dissociation from the body becomes the mechanism of survival as if the trauma is still happening. In a sense, trauma is still occurring, if to experience the feelings for their release seems far too overwhelming, producing intense fear and anxiety. It is clear to see how the stress disorder is maintained, and for good reason. The problem is, ongoing dissociation, while initially for the purpose of survival, becomes a way of self defence (defence against one’s own self) and therefore self neglect. The body may then start to provide feedback by manifesting further physical symptoms.

It thus seems to become unsafe to live in one’s own skin for fear of re-experiencing unconscious feelings and emotional reactions associated with the trauma. The psyche may try to bring partial relief via dreams, nightmares, or flashbacks.

Going head on into re-experiencing the trauma and its associated feelings can often be re-traumatising and it is not always necessary. The first thing is to find ways of learning how to be comfortable and safe again in one’s own body. This must be done slowly and gently – not too much, nor too soon. Helpful practices are Yoga and Yoga Nidra, Mindfulness practices, walking and being with the natural world, Tai Chi or Qigong, relaxing in a warm bath; anything that allows us to re-engage the parasympathetic nervous system (the relaxation response) to help us relax with our body and feel safe with it. The idea is to sense into and feel the body again, starting with areas of the body that still feel safe to feel. This is grounding and helps to regulate the whole nervous system, giving us a chance to release bound up energy, a little at a time. Good friendships and quality time spent with others that helps us to feel connected are also very important.

Self soothing is the key, and then if feelings or memories need to arise for release, it will feel safer to allow this to happen. Psychotherapies that gently help those suffering from trauma to feel safer in their body will be very helpful. If you think you may be suffering from trauma and related symptoms and are looking for help, please call 020 8780 9449 or use the contact form.