Trauma and the Nervous System

You might or might not identify as someone who has experienced trauma. The truth is, most

of us have to some extent. You see, trauma isn't in the event itself, it's in how your nervous system responds and processes the traumatic event or reoccurring events. What is traumatising for one person may not be for another and visa versa. 

This diagram gives a comprehensive example of what happens in our nervous system when we experience something that registers as too much, too fast or too soon (a common definition of trauma) for us to handle. The pent up traumatic energy that we often don't get a chance to release during a traumatic event for many reasons can lead to a plethora of adverse symptoms if left unattended. 

If you've heard anything about the nervous system, you've probably heard about the sympathetic & parasympathetic branches and how sympathetic is bad and parasympathetic is good. This is a common teaching of the nervous system which is not exactly correct. Neither branch is necessarily good or bad. They are both vital branches of the nervous system which we rely on daily for our mere survival. In it's most basic functioning, our sympathetic nervous system response is active when we inhale and our parasympathetic when we exhale. We need to be able to easily enter in and out of these nervous system states at appropriate times for a full range of healthy nervous system functioning. Furthermore, our sympathetic response allows us to mobilise in situations like running, heavy lifting, debating, or in any kind of 'high stress' situation. While our parasympathetic response allows for the let down and let go of relaxation, meditation, slow movements like yin yoga or falling asleep. It's true that we can be more 'wired' for one state more than the other, but we should be able to flip between them when necessary. There is also a healthy range by which we experience the different states of our nervous system When we experience trauma we can become catapulted beyond the range that we can tolerate either too far into parasympathetic mode or sympathetic mode. Becoming stuck 'on' or stuck 'off', which in turn can leave us plagued with the symptoms mentioned in the diagram. This is the most basic way to describe what happens to us when we become 'traumatised' by our experiences. This nervous system dysregulation can taint our lives, leaving us stuck in a perpetual loop of unhealthy habits, disorders, or reactions.

It is important to know that this isn't a life sentence and we don't have to just put up with this. Traumatic energy can be gradually drawn from the nervous system which in turn will lessen the grip that these uncomfortable trauma symptoms have on us. That's what they are, they are symptoms that we develop as a means of self-protection and preservation. The body never got a chance to complete the regulation process during the actual event so the body keeps the score until we eventually feel ready and safe enough to complete the process.

Somatic Experiencing is one modality that can be used to work with the imbalances in our nervous system. Through the gentle use of body-oriented techniques we can learn to become more embodied (present in our bodies), as a result, our nervous system becomes more regulated and we can finally let go of the pent up traumatic energy that no longer serves a purpose in our bodies. This process can give us back our vitality, joy and empowerment, so that we can live our lives to our fullest potential.

For more information on Somatic Experiencing and the nervous system, get in touch with me here.

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