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How Trauma Gets Stuck In Our Body: Philosophy

Updated: Mar 2

If you’re here, chances are that you are dealing with some ongoing distress that traditional talk therapy or conventional medicine has not been able to resolve beyond perhaps providing you with some not-super-helpful diagnosis. I’d like to offer you a new way of exploring your challenges and some different ideas about what might be needed to heal. 

Our symptoms of distress are often caused by what were originally intelligent strategies to solve very real problems in our past.

I'm going to say this again because it is so important and easy to miss… The world can be dangerous → we create strategies to mitigate these dangers → some of these (at the time useful) strategies end up causing their own side-effects (our symptoms) → which end up being the current sources of problems. This is one element of how trauma gets 'stuck' in our bodies.

Example: (danger) growing up a parent’s attention is often cruel or even violent

→ (solution) we learn that receiving attention is dangerous and to avoid this by becoming ‘small’ which could include things like not speaking up, constricting our breath and other muscles, tracking our parents mood and needs, dismissing our own needs when in relationship, etc

→ (new problem) if these strategies stay on for years or decades we can end up going into defensive states around any show of attention, or feeling like we don’t know who we are or what we need, or having physical pain from years of chronic bracing 

Exploring how our nervous system locates danger and how it locates safety allows us to begin to understand the mechanics of our symptoms and our healing.

This very relatable mini course on the autonomic nervous system will give you some foundational understanding about how your threat and safety detection system works.

Our body/mind self is hardwired to move towards healing and wholeness.

Health and wholeness are context dependent and if we have unresolved trauma, our body/mind may still be trying to solve problems that actually originated in our past but that our present experience resembles.

When our body is detecting danger it will be mobilizing our biological and psychological resources towards protection.

When your body is detecting safety it will be mobilizing our biological and psychological resources towards healing/connection/creativity.

Two caveats here … 1) danger and safety are complex things that involve our internal environment, the external environment and our interpersonal environment …. It takes time to uncover what features of these different environments your body is most impacted by. 2) the journey into healing is likely to involve moments of discomfort…it also takes time for your body/mind to discover that certain emotions or sensations that were once actually dangerous are now still uncomfortable but also bearable and transformative 

Example: You go on a 'big mission' such as an extensive hiking trip or a long trip to visit parents/extended family, and your body held up (protective response) during the trip but suddenly collapsed into exhaustion or even illness (healing/recovery response) once you completed the challenge. While exhaustion is obviously not the goal here, it can serve as an important step in the movement from stress back to recovery. The takeaway here is that your body likely will not allow you to fully & deeply rest until your body detects that you are in a safe enough environment to do so. By learning your body's unique needs and responses we can better create environments/contexts where your innate healing abilities will come online.

Working in the present moment allows access to the most effective and genuine transformations.

When we loose touch with the present moment we are more likely to regress to wounded-states that can be re-traumatizing.

By exploring what arises in the present moment: 1) we are going to find the latest real-time examples of how our distress states play out and 2) we are going to ground any changes we make in a much more visceral, embodied, lasting fashion than if we try to make changes by thinking our way through conceptually.

Example: Let's say you feel chronically stressed to the point of overwhelm and you notice that certain social situations amplify these feelings. Before we try to go 'figure out' what is going on for you socially, we might start be exploring your ability to access a sense of support or stability in the present moment.

Once this is accessible then we might begin to explore what features of our relationship tend to bring about more ease or more stress for you. This could include anything from eye contact, gestures of care, receiving or making requests, situations where you feel 'like you should ______', and a myriad of other possible relational signals that your body is subtly tracking for. By slowly exploring these features and your bodily reactions to them we get to build a new foundation that is not conceptual, but rather experiential, for you to take into your life.

If you have any thoughts or questions about these ideas or their application, I'd love to hear from you. If you'd like to dive deeper into the mechanics of your nervous system I'd invite you to check out my upcoming course titled -- Boundaries: from the inside out -- or this awesome mini course that only costs $1.

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