I have been writing about psychological and emotional impacts of trauma for a few months now. In this unpacking of the complexity of the impact of abuse, one of the other major elements has been the “Stuck” trauma into the body. It stems from the idea that we store trauma in our body and it shows up physically in all sorts of ways – tight and stiff shoulders; collapsed sternum and chest; chronic muscular pain; chronic fatigue; digestive issues and many more complex illnesses.
Have you heard about Dr. Babette Rothschild? She specialises in the somatic impacts of trauma and has written many books on the subject. My blog 8 Keys to Safe Trauma Recovery – Dr. Babette Rothschild talks about one of her books, but there are so many more.
So my next a few blogs will focus on the physical and energetic body and how healing can occur at these levels.
Since I can remember, I have always suffered from digestive issues and other illnesses that didn’t make any sense, so much so, that some of my family members used to make fun of me. I never linked them to my “trauma”. To me, I was just a weak person, whose body didn’t work.
A bit later in life, I started suffering from chronic back pain, so bad that I wasn’t even able to sit at my desk and work for a significant length of time. Each morning I would start work and within 45 minutes to an hour, my back would start to hurt, breathing became difficult and I would have to go to a meeting room to lie down and stretch for a few minutes before I was able to breathe again.
In my blog Anatomy of Childhood Sexual Abuse Trauma, I have talked about how trauma can sneak up on us in ways that we may not understand. The body works the same way. The symptoms can appear quite unrelated to trauma but these start to resolve themselves once the body releases the stuckness of the trauma from itself.
“Stuck Trauma” – Holding a Protection Posture
Do you collapse your chest and let your shoulders fall forward? I know I have done it for years and I still do it when I am feeling unsafe and when I want to protect myself from my environment. It’s a desire to curve myself into a ball; to contract myself; to diminish so that people don’t notice and maybe I can be safe again.
My back becomes more rounded and my chest collapses a little bit. I sit like this on my desk; I go to the gym like this and have injured myself countless times.
I can tell you though – the posture does nothing to protect. On the contrary, when I walked around wanting to diminish, people’s behaviour follows suit and they make me feel even more diminished. I am defending before I am even attacked and instinctively, I caused people to attack because I have already taken the defensive stance.
It’s a strange paradox – Stay open but be prepared to take a defensive stance if the situation arises but only if the situation arises and not before. I think it comes back to Find Your Sense of Safety without Control, which is such a crucial thing for survivors.
“Stuck” Trauma – Muscular Stiffness and Chronic Pain
In a normal scenario, when the mind (or rather our amygdala) encounters a threat, it prepares the body for a possible fight/flight mechanism. All muscles in the body tense up and the blood moves to the organs that are needed for fighting. Body functions that are considered unimportant for survival stall.
When the threat is over, the muscles come back to normal and everything is hunky dory again.
Unfortunately for survivors, the “normalising” of the muscles doesn’t occur as efficiently. For years, I have walked on the streets in the battle stance – to protect myself from the men on the streets. I was ready to fight if someone tried to hurt me. Years later, my body is still unlearning this stance.
For me, this has resulted in twisted spine & pelvic muscles and stiff back resulting in shoulder pain, right hip joint issues and severe chronic back and mild neck & shoulders pain.
“Stuck” Trauma – Organ Dysfunction
Trauma is an extreme form of stress on the body. Extreme situations require extreme measures, so the body produces copious amounts of cortisol to manage this stress. This process requires lots of energy and when the body is constantly producing cortisol, there is not much energy left for other body functions.
The adrenal gland gets tired causing fatigue; kidneys don’t work as efficiently. Digestion system is screwed up so the body is not able to get the nutrition that it needs and it further does deeper into the trauma state.
Anxiety creates further cardiovascular impacts and can also create long-term heart disease. Holding on to the grief can also cause lungs to behave erratically and may be a contributing factor in pneumonia and other lung based illnesses.
The neuropsychologist magazine has an article that explains all of this in detail. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has also published overall impacts including the impact on the physical body.
In extreme cases, these physical and physiological symptoms can create many severe illnesses – all of this as a sign that the body is holding on to the trauma and it’s crying for help.
Healing from trauma then becomes a process where the body plays a major part in releasing the cellular memories and starts to relax so the energy is used in other places rather than in cortisol production.
In my next a few blogs, I will share my experiences of the ways I have used to heal my body. Some of them at a very physical level and others at a psychosomatic level.
Don’t worry, there is light at the end of the tunnel but it starts from acknowledging that there is a problem and I hope through this blog, you are able to recognise what specific physical and physiological impacts does your body exhibit…
Give your body permission to release this trauma to bring you back to a fully healed body.