Updated: Oct 31, 2022
On your healing journey you may have heard that trauma can become trapped in your body if it is not properly released. This may have left you confused, not understanding what trapped trauma is. Let me explain.
First of all, I would like to explain what trauma is and isn't.
Trauma used to be considered an event like a car accident, a sexual assault, or watching a loved one die. Over time scientists realized this definition was wrong because two people could go through the same car accident and one may have extreme trauma symptoms, and another may be barely affected. Through studies, it was realized that trauma is our emotional response to an event. Trauma is what happens within you emotionally when you are in a car accident or another terrifying event. The event itself overwhelms your ability to cope and often a person feels like they will die.
When a person experiences trauma there is a burst of energy pumped throughout their body. The sympathetic nervous is activated and within milliseconds a person naturally moves into fight or flight. This is automatic. Their body and brain prepare to either fight or flee their danger. If escape seems impossible, then a person can move into a freeze mode where they shut down.
When a person's fight or flight is activated, and they are in a situation where they cannot complete this cycle of energy (let's say they are trapped in a car after a car accident) the energy or trauma will become trapped in their body. Over time, if this trauma energy is not released it can affect a person's mental, emotional, and physical health.
When trauma occurs, in an effort of protection, your brain temporarily pauses your memory processing system, and the experience is not stored the same way as traditional memories are. Instead of being stored as a complete memory, played in our heads like a movie reel, traumatic experiences are thought to be stored as fragments of pictures of body sensations. These fragments are unprocessed and therefore do not fit in the system as they should. Because they don’t fit, these fragments can surface unexpectedly as nightmares, flashbacks, or general angst and unease. When trauma is trapped, your body feels it and your brain tries desperately to make sense of it.
So how can a person release this stored trauma and live a more fulfilling life?
The body is the key to the mind. A person first has to calm the body’s response to trauma, shifting it from danger/alert to relaxed/controlled. Only then can you begin to recognize and process the mental and emotional aspects of the trauma. We call this a "bottom-up approach" to healing trauma.
How to Release Trauma Trapped in the Body International Trauma-Healing Institute founder Gina Ross has developed a simple process called EmotionAid. Here is a summary of those steps you can use to begin releasing trauma trapped in your body.
First, assess where you are: rate your stress or upset from a low of 1 to a high of 7. If it is high, first practice the following Grounding Steps.
Begin by Butterfly Hugging and Tapping– hug yourself and then alternately tap on your arms, from side to side, 25 times. Then take a deep breath. Repeat this until your stress level begins to drop noticeably.
Next, Send Roots into the Ground. Notice your feet or, if you're seated, your back, buttocks, and back of your legs in the chair. Now notice your feet or lower body being firmly connected to the floor, then to the ground, like roots going deep into the earth. Take a deep breath. Then gaze about the room and notice objects or textures about the room, remaining connected to your “roots.”
Finally, Notice Breathing: Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Now just be with your breath, not trying to change it, but just noticing the rhythm of it. Then make a heart shape with your fingertips and bring awareness to your beating heart.
Now begin to Discharge Sensations and Release Stress.
First, notice your breath and breathe. Notice any sensations that come up naturally. As you release stress hormones, they will present through sensations like shaking, heat, sweating, yawning, goosebumps, changed breath and gurgling in the stomach. Be curious about the feelings and be with them, and they will naturally discharge. Do not judge or critique what you are feeling or sensing.
Next, briefly review the traumatic event or troubling thoughts that lead to the sensations. As you review, notice the Feelings that come up as you consider what happened. It’s important to go slow so that you’re only allowing the activation of one feeling at a time. Just be with it and give it plenty of time. Then notice the discharge that emerges as you follow the sensations. (Know that you can temporarily set aside sensations and emotions that you are not focusing on at the moment. For example, imagine putting them on a shelf for the moment.)
Then work with the Thoughts. Again, as you notice one thought at a time, observe the sensations that show up with these thoughts. Let go of the judgment or criticism. Just be present and continue to observe what happens next and experience the sensations discharging and releasing from the body.
Now notice and bring to awareness Resources. A resource is anything that feels strong and calm to you. These can be external (for example, the kind eyes of a good friend) or internal (perhaps the memory of a personal achievement). As you recall or hold these resources notice the sensations that show up in your body. Take a few minutes to feel the sense of calm and strength in your body.
I hope these exercises help you on your healing journey. If you would like to talk about this blog or any other concerns, you have, feel free to send me a message below or email me at email@example.com. Warmly, Janet Rhodes BA, CCTP, NLPP, RC.t