If you recall, in my last blog I talked through the definition of trauma and how trauma can get stored in the body. Trauma leaves an impact long after it’s over. Chronically freezing, trying to escape, fighting, or collapsing. But why? Why do our bodies get caught like this?
How We Get Stuck
Well, there are few explanations for this:
Our central nervous system (made up of our brain stem and spinal cord) is terrible at time stamping. A lot of people ask me to define “time stamping,” which makes sense. It’s not a common term. Time stamping is our central nervous system’s ability to stamp an event as being in the past. If it not able to time stamp, when we see, touch, smell, hear, or taste something similar to event it says, “Ahhhh, this is still happening!” It cannot put what happened in the past as over. Stuck we stay.
Our bodies try to complete incomplete responses. What in the world does this even mean? When we find ourselves in the midst of serious harm (emotionally or physically) or threatened death, our bodies need to escape or fight. Sometimes we are not able to do this. We freeze or collapse because the brain believes this is the best way to stay alive. Look dead and the threat will leave you alone. Disconnect so you can’t feel the harm. Conversely, we may try to fight or escape but it doesn’t work. The result: after the threat is gone, our bodies still needs to fight or escape or we stay in collapse, so we find ourselves chronically stuck in these response. Escape:We “run” from vulnerable relationships. Fight: We get irritable and yell at people even over minor faults. Collapse: We isolate or stay on screens for a lot of time. Our bodies become stuck in processes that we are not able to complete. Our bodies wait to complete them, but most of the time the body doesn’t have new tools to do this. So, stuck we stay.
Our bodies were not able to effectively discharge. After a huge event, we need to let off the charge from what happened. We do this through trembling or waves of heat moving through our bodies. Then we tell the story several times until we come to a satisfying conclusion. This is commonly seen in the animal kingdom (less the telling the story part). When we cannot complete this process fully… we get stuck. And, stuck we stay.
What is the solution?
How can we overcome this? That seems like a lot of sticky stuckness… there must be a solution. The blanket answer would be “go to therapy.” But this still doesn’t hit the heart of how we overcome the ongoing struggle of being stuck.
Let’s take these in order.
Here and Now:
When our bodies are having trouble time stamping, it helps to reminder that we are in the here and now. Sometimes we need to do this over and over and over again. We can do this by grounding to the room (i.e. noticing 5 things around us). Or we can do this by simple statements said out load (which helps to ground) such as, “I’m here now. I’m ok.”
Completing incomplete responses:
Completing incomplete response is where therapy can be helpful. I believe one of the best places to process through these is with a trained therapist who understand the somatic (which is a fancy word for body) responses to trauma. However, for some people, identifying the incomplete responses such as fight, escape, or collapse can help us find new responses. For instance, if we find ourselves chronically in collapse, we can be intentional to slowly dis-engage from screens to re-connecting with other humans or animals. We can go for a walk and become mindfully aware of how it is to reconnect with ourselves and nature. If we find ourselves chronically in a fight response, it can be helpful to be mindful of the fight response and ask ourselves, “What does my body need to complete this response in helpful way right now.” It’s amazing what we learn about these responses with this question.
Allow Your Body to Response:
If you notice that you have waves of heat or feel a trembling in your body, allow this to happen. Our knee jerk response is to hold these responses in. Hold them back. Hold it together. This is simply our body trying to discharge and it is important to let this happen.
These may not be a cure-all by any means. This can help us learn to be curious about ourselves, to become mindfully aware which helps us to understand, to heal trauma, and to heal us.
Join us for our Healing Trauma, Healing Me training for more information on trauma and skills to overcome its effects.