Trauma is an experience of extreme stress or shock that is/or was, at some point, part of life. It is an experience that threatens body/mind’s entire organism by causing a rupture in its capacity to assimilate and accommodate into inner regulatory, taking it to functioning in a new level of organization. The organism is forced beyond its physiological adaptation’s capacity, in order to regulate the activation state of the Nervous System, and fails in its reciprocal relationship among the other body systems.
A reciprocal relationship suggests a positive cooperation within and between systems; a system works, therefore, in coherence, harmony and continuity, taking and bringing back internal environmental information related to the external environment, and vice versa, promoting well-being, comprehensive health, which means self-regulation. When there is trauma, the continuity of internal experience breaks, and one dissociates from the present moment. This manifests itself in a global setting between sensorimotor stimuli, and cognitive and emotional states, which arise from the experience of shock and or chronic stress. Thus, a loss in rhythmic capacity for self-regulation occurs, which is the natural organismic state that guides the person to the presents state and to fluidity during life.
Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of accumulative stress; threat is the felt sense of fear that a person experiences under attack and in danger of physical or psychological harm. Stress could be defined as any physiological event, external or internal, that demands that the body adapt to it. Trauma, life threats in the face of helplessness, ultimately has a very different neurophysiology than stress; trauma has its roots in an unresolved fight, flight/freeze defense response, involves the arousal centers of the brain, and affects autonomic homeostasis.
Trauma is also a syndrome of the corruption of memory with regard to its relationship to time and develops into many of the symptoms that define dissociation. If you are exposed to something in your environment that provides an intense enough cue to an old trauma, for the moment, you will be back in that old state of helplessness, with all of its associated numbing, visceral feelings, body sensations and altered thoughts. The tendency for recurrent freezing in the face of danger is the hallmark of late, or complex trauma, which is clearly a syndrome of dissociation. When the nervous system does not reset after an overwhelming experience, sleep, cardiac, digestion, respiration, and immune system function can be seriously disturbed. Unresolved physiological distress can also lead to an array of other physical, cognitive, emotional and behavioral symptoms.
Symptoms of trauma are characterized by chronic arousal, sleep disturbance, obsessive persistence, distraction, etc. Sometimes there are even somatic sensations: myofascial pain, headache, bruxing, bowel symptoms, back pain, and other symptoms that keep interrupting one’s present moment. Systematic studies have found links between symptoms of PTSD and traumatic stress, according to Bessel van der Kolk. The majority of victims of trauma develop a variety of psychological disorders and personality changes, in addition to PTSD; these disorders include major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder and others.
* Excerpts of Engaging Touch & Movement in Somatic Experiencing® Trauma Resolution Approach, PhD thesis of Sonia Gomes (IUGS, 2014, New York)
- Levine, P. (1997). Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, North Atlantic Press, Berkeley, CA.
- Levine, P. (2010). In an Unspoken Voice, How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, CA.
- Scaer, Robert (2012). 8 Keys to Brain-Body Balance, New York, NY, p.72-150.
- Van der Kolk, Bessel A. (1996). Traumatic Stress. The Guilford Press, New York, NY.