There’s a lot of confusion and fear surrounding the phenomenon of Trauma. The feeling of being “traumatized” is often regarded as being something to keep hidden, for fear one might be negatively judged. This doesn’t help anyone to move forwards.
In this brief piece I will try to give a bare-bones functional understanding of what Trauma really is and how we can work with it, and move into a space of deeper wholeness within ourselves.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is any form of emotionally-evocative event that remains unprocessed. Traumas are often associated with early childhood, but we can become traumatised at any point in our lives, when something happens that leaves a unprocessed emotions within us.
Thus, when we say something like “I’ve been traumatized,” what we are saying is that we haven’t fully processed what happened yet, there are still emotions held in the body that need to be felt and expressed.
The body is central to understanding Trauma. Unprocessed emotions are held in the muscle system of the body as “holding patterns,” or sometimes “dead zones.”
Holding patterns are areas of unnatural tension, where the muscles have developed and maintained a distorted, tense shape.
Dead zones are areas where there the muscles have gone limp, awareness has left them entirely, like we have disowned a part of us.
What types of Traumatic Incidents are there?
Traumas typically fall into one of two categories
Disconnection wounds – where we expect something to happen, or someone to be there… and they aren’t. For instance, a child reaching out for mother, who isn’t there. These wounds tend to be types of abandonment.
Invasion wounds – where someone or something crosses our natural boundaries without our consent. Incidents of abuse – physical, emotional or sexual – are examples of invasion wounds. It’s worth noting that invasion wounds don’t have to refer to physical damage. Our sense of personal selfhood, our ego, may be damaged by strong, repeated criticism from someone and this is also a type of invasion wound.
Why are Traumatic Events left Unprocessed?
A lot of trauma occurs early in life. As humans, though we have nine months inside our mother to grow, it actually takes years for our capacity to understand the world and process emotions to develop completely. In these early years it is very easy to be emotionally overwhelmed, and the brain simply stores the old feelings away in the body if it’s too much to process at the time. This is why many older cultures, such as Indian and Asian, often treat small children with immense care for the first few years.
Later in life, very powerful events may also cause trauma – experiences of violence, the loss of a loved one, etc.
How do we get over Trauma and feel whole again?
What is needed is for the emotions held in the body at a muscular level to be released, by consciously feeling and expressing them.
It’s great to develop the attitude that we really want to feel all of what has happened to us in life. This is the perfect start. But the reality is that when holding patterns or dead zones have been present in the body for decades, it will take some time, effort and sincere practise to slowly open up all these areas.
This is where therapeutic techniques like Bioenergetics can help a lot.
How Does Bioenergetics Help with Trauma?
Bioenergetics is a body-movement therapy that has 3 core elements…
putting the body into a certain physical position and maintaining this position, staying on the edge of your comfort zone.
breathing deep whilst doing this, usually through the mouth and down towards the belly.
keeping your awareness on your body, feeling what is going on.
There are many different bodily positions, some stationary, some moving. These 3 elements are common to nearly all and essentially they allow the body to “open.” This opening happens at a muscular level.
It is the breathing and feeling that creates change. The different positions allow us to access different muscle groups, or different aspects of our personality or psychology.
Old feelings may come to the surface and you may re-experience thoughts and feelings from when the trauma took place.
Or, you may simply experience a release from the muscles without really being so aware of when and how the trauma occurred.
It takes time and dedication for your body to open and release old traumas. You need to be willing to commit to a weekly practice and to not give up.
Resistance to Change
Because our bodies have been holding old, unprocessed emotions for decades, our mind will have developed a personality around them. Our psyche develops to ensure that certain areas of our mind remain “off-limits.”
This creates a “hardening of the personality,” which manifests as regular, perhaps rather addictive patterns of daily or weekly behaviour. We are a certain way, and other people get used to us being like that.
As Bioenergetics starts to open the body up, so our mind may encounter fear, as the possibility of deep change starts to manifest.
Maybe we have become used to always going with the flow, not confronting things, and suddenly we start to feel anger.
Maybe we have become used to being in control, always knowing what’s happening around us, and we start to feel vulnerable.
Or we may simply experience constant distraction and find ourselves seemingly unable to stay focussed on our breath and the feeling of our body. We may perhaps hear a narrative being spun in our mind telling us that “nothing is happening.”
This constant sense of distraction, or the belief that nothing is happening, invariably mean that something is happening, just below the level of our conscious experience. The egoic mind is trying to avoid feeling what’s coming up and so it finds ways to take us away from the practice.
To overcome resistance you need simply to continue your practice. It can be good to be aware when you’re becoming distracted or disheartened and resolve to really breathe and feel what is happening for the next few minutes. Invariably, something will really start to emerge when you take yourself on like this.
Understanding resistance and developing a certain discipline when you see yourself acting resistantly can be a great way to create rapid positive change.
So it’s important to make sure that you decide in advance what your practice for that day, or week, will be, and to ensure that you do complete it. Make sure your daily or weekly practice is do-able, that you’re not setting yourself up to fail through creating too high a goal.
Managing Feelings on this Journey of Opening
As you continue on this journey with Bioenergetics, or other body-based therapy, so you will inevitably come to start feeling more and more emotions.
This is great but sometimes it can be disturbing for your mind, which may be used to you being a certain way.
You may notice yourself reacting more strongly than you would expect to relatively trivial incidents. This happens when repressed feelings are close the surface and they are becoming “projected” onto situations around you.
You may simply notice yourself having natural emotional reactions far more deeply than usual.
It’s good to create for yourself ways to help the process along, such as…
Sharing about your experiences and giving yourself what you need to feel safe are very supportive practises for most people undergoing a journey of healing themselves from trauma.
It’s great to find people you feel okay to share with about your experience, perhaps people doing similar work on themselves. It’s also important to create as much safety in your daily life as you can, so that as raw feelings come to the surface you don’t need to excessively protect yourself.
It can be useful to recognise the difference between working on disconnection wounds and invasion wounds.
Disconnection wounds tend to be heart-centred and when they’re being released you may find yourself needing more connection with people.
Invasion wounds are usually more gut-centred and when they’re being released you may find yourself needing more space, or a better sense of boundaries, with people.