Trauma and the Body
In light of the recent focus on sexual abuse and the #metoo campaign on social media, it made me think more closely about trauma and the effects of emotional turmoil on the body. Ironically, I started writing this article a little while ago, before the conversation around sexual abuse and trauma became prominent in the media. I never realised how much people want to speak out about the issues surrounding abuse and trauma. From a therapists point of view, this is a topic we are faced with on a regular basis. Seeing it become topical in a public domain is most encouraging.
I have first hand experience of abuse and the resultant trauma, so it has been a prominent conversation in my personal and professional life for many, many years as I have continued on my journey of healing, and as I have processed my own traumas and emotions. Becoming a therapist was not only informed by my interest in Psychology and people, but was born from my own experiences. My personal traumas have made me want to understand what happens to a person after the traumatic experience(s) has(ve) happened.
“Trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past;
it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body.”
(van der Kolk, 2015, p. 21)
For years I studied Psychology and how the mind works. Then I went on to look at how emotions are connected to the mind. I have recently become far more interested in how the mind, body and emotions all work together in finding coping mechanisms after the experience of trauma. Some of these coping mechanisms are useful in the moment of impact, but can become detrimental in later years as those coping mechanisms become the patterns and habits by which we interact with the world around us. At the same time, while we are relying on our coping mechanisms, the emotional turmoil is securely locking itself in our bodies and affecting our thoughts, emotions and behaviours in the most subtle of ways.
‘The realisation that I “was” my body pounded at the doors
of my own precious “reality”.
It forced me to reconsider every aspect of my life and beingness.’
(Dychtwald, 1978, p. 5)
Research has shown that trauma is not only stored in the memory or mind/brain. The emotional responses we have to traumatic experiences are also stored in our body. These emotional blocks show up in many ways in our lives. We can see it in our behaviour patterns and our typical, repetitive emotional responses or reactions which play out habitually in our lives. It can be seen in the work we do and the partners we choose. Every aspect of ourselves and our lives are affected and informed by the emotions we carry in our body. These emotions can also play out in our physical health and wellbeing.
It is, therefore, necessary to process and release from your body the emotional charge surrounding that person, situation or event which is throwing you off balance. Once you begin this process, you might start to feel like you are able to live your life with a renewed freedom from the negative effects of that experience.
There is hope after trauma!
Dance Therapy offers a wonderful, safe environment in which to explore and process mental, physical and emotional issues, by harnessing the power of the subconscious mind and using the body’s innate ability to heal itself, without interference from conscious thought processes.
A combination of talk therapy and choreographed dance (ballet, modern and contemporary influences) are used in individual therapy sessions.
With a focus on the physical connection to an emotional block, as well as on the feel of each movement, a deeper connection is established between the body, mind and emotions.
Dychtwald, K. (1978). BodyMind – A synthesis of Eastern and Western Ways to self-awareness, health and personal growth. London, UK: Wildwood House.
Van der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score – Brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma. New York, USA: Penguin Books.