Most of us have experienced trauma at some stage in life because trauma is simply an event in which we have become overwhelmed. Our nervous system kicks in well before our rational thinking brain comes online and activates us to fight, flee or freeze. This response is based upon a combination of the sensory stimuli from event itself, our history of trauma along with our felt sense of our capacity to manage the given situation. Our nervous system is designed to save our lives in whatever way it deems necessary.
When we take the context of trauma out of the event and consider it from the perspective of nervous system overwhelm, it encompasses a whole host of events normally overlooked by society and psychology as traumatic.
Some common life experiences that are often minimized yet can have an immensely traumatic impact include: going to the dentist, minor car accidents, infertility treatment, workplace stress, falling over, relational abuse, dealing with a long term illness, having a baby or the death of a pet. This morning my 4 year old stuck a fairy wand in her eye. This was an incredibly traumatic for her in the realm of her experience thus far. Thankfully both fairy and fairy wand are OK and with any luck I will get some reprieve from being turned into a bunny rabbit for a few weeks.
When we are faced with everyday trauma most of us suck it up and keep on going
We literally suck it up, or really suck it in and keep going with the tasks, responsibilities and necessities of the day. The reality is we can’t tell our narcissistic boss to stick it, we have to go to the dentist, we have to deal with years of sleep deprivation and at times we have to have medical treatment in order to save our life. The reality is that trauma is a natural part of life however staying stuck there indefinitely is not.
We must understand that we suck in, gets stuck in…
When we suck it up and keep on going we literally lock the sensory fragments of trauma into our nervous system. Left unprocessed it forms part of our implicit memory designed to protect us from future threat (hello hyper vigilance) and with enough overwhelm in our lives we can find ourselves locked into an eternal dance of trying to contain an enduringly over activated nervous system.
So what about our capacity to be resilient in the face of overwhelm?
Do you notice that some people just seem to cruise through life relatively unaffected whilst others get hit by wave after wave of challenge? This is largely due to the degree and impact of past trauma and particularly any trauma that we may have experienced during childhood. A ground breaking study by Felitti in 1998, called the Adverse Childhood Events Study (ACE Study) made the scientific link between trauma experienced in childhood and the long term impact on our physiology. This lead researchers to understand that while we may have personally moved on from difficult events in our lives they may still be very much alive and continue to influence our physiology even decades after the event has passed.
Want to find your ACE score? Click here
As children our survival is highly dependent upon the adults in our lives caring for us physically, emotionally and psychologically. If for whatever reason they are either physically or emotionally unavailable or are a source of uncertainty or even threat then our only choice for survival is learning how to suck it in and keep on going. This results in our budding nervous systems becoming hardwired for and hair triggered by any perceived threat.
As adults (especially if you have been lucky enough to have a stable, supportive and secure childhood) we have had far greater resources to manage challenge. If we have seen ourselves triumph in the face of adversity then understandably our confidence in our capacity to manage (self-regulate) is strengthened.
But faced with defeat time and again our sense of safety in the world and therefore in ourselves falters.
Left unprocessed the sensory fragments that initially triggered the overwhelm in the nervous system remain highly activated in our sensory memory and keeps us on high alert.
Without a means to process and integrate the everyday trauma a traffic jam accumulates in our nervous system sending us into activation at the slightest hint of danger.
This doesn’t always look like immense deer-in-headlights shock as we would expect with significant shock trauma more often than not we exist in a state of functional freeze.
So what does functional freeze look like?
Well we can still carry out our day to day activities, we go to work, look after the kids, keep up our exercise routines, pay the bills, mow the lawn etc. (mostly)
But we feel…
- Feel constantly stressed, worried or anxious
- Have phobias or aversions
- Struggle with sleep
- Find making simple decisions difficult
- Experience chronic muscle tension, pain or headaches
- Are easily irritated
- Self-medicate with work, screen time, alcohol, exercise etc
- Find it difficult to sit still
- Don’t feel safe or happy for no apparent reason
- Have infrequent chest pain or tightness
- Experience medically unexplained symptoms
- At times feel numb, dizzy or unable to concentrate
Many people don’t consider that they have been or still are traumatized because the event isn’t considered by our culture as traumatic. Our society only considers a shocking event to be traumatic and thus worthy of attention. Or people simply don’t understand the impact because they have no lived experience of your traumatic experience.
The other crucial aspect is that in trauma our brains and bodies behave differently.
Natural opioids are released to numb us to the pain so that it doesn’t seem so bad and our memory of the event is vague in an attempt to protect us from being re-traumatized by the memories. There are many people who simply do not remember their trauma or do not remember the event as being traumatic. This was certainly the case when I was trying to figure out how to cure my dental phobia .
So why is it important to understand everyday trauma?
Because we have all been traumatized.
And because some of us are still stuck in functional freeze and have been for decades. I know I was. Despite years of work shops and working on myself the back log in my nervous system was dominating my life in clear sight. Why did I not see it? Or anyone else. Well my guess is that we are immersed in a society of people living in functional freeze. It is normal to be over worked, financially stressed, be exposed to dysfunctional relationships, experience infertility or be disconnected from society through disability or aging. The only cue that our nervous system is internally combusting is our chronic pain, unexplained symptoms, autoimmune disease or mental health issues.
And because we are locked in a system that seeks to address our trauma from a psychological perspective or a physiological perspective and in turn overlooks our overwhelm from a nervous system perspective. Now this is not to say that addressing these issues with psychological or physiological interventions is redundant. These are crucial aspects of recovery. What concerns me and many of my colleagues is that when it becomes clear that these approaches are limited for some individuals that they are left stranded and strung out with no hope of reprieve.
There are numerous ways of releasing tension from the nervous system. The approach I use involves invoking neurogenic tremoring using TRE. Other modalities such as Somatic Experiencing, Body Psychotherapy and Bioenergetics likewise seek to release and re-balance the nervous system. It really doesn’t matter which approach we engage, what matters most is that we recognize that everyday life can be traumatic and that we are able to seek out the support that we need so that we can move beyond our overwhelm and back into a state of ease, connection and joy.
So if you have been stuck in everyday trauma and have been wondering why you have done all the courses, taken all the supplements and tried deep breathing till you turn blue in the face and you are still stuck there know that you are not alone.
Know that by processing the charge out of your nervous system that things will get better. I hear every day how TRE changes people’s lives in ways they could never imagine, their pain is reduced or gone, stress is diminished, health issues improved and they are starting to enjoy life for the first time in a long time.
And know that we have all been sucking it in and hoping for the best and now it is time to exhale…
Emiline is a counsellor, bodyworker, TRE provider and writer. With over 20 years of working with people to release pain, tension and anxiety she believes that healing was meant to be mostly fun and easy. Whether you are wanting to find greater success in life, let go of the past or find your way through a difficult time I am here to support you. Call me for a free 15 minute consultation to discuss the ways in which I can help. Finding greater ease than ever before is often simpler than we think. So give me a call on 0419 101 665 or send me at email firstname.lastname@example.org