Ancient medicine understood the relationship, or rather, the unity, between the body and the mind. However, since the dawn of modern science, the
medical community has been entranced by the body, and skeptical and naive about the extent of the minds impact on the body.
Till this day, this prejudice still exists in some quarters. But with every year, and as the evidence continues to pile, it'll eventually become
established wisdom to consider TRAUMA as a source of some of our most enigmatic medical conditions.
First things first: what is trauma? When people hear this word, they tend to think of some nebulous, indefinable psychological condition which
impacts how people feel. But this interpretation falls short of a holistic understanding of what trauma is. Trauma, in fact, as science is beginning
to show, is a COMPLETELY PHYSICAL response to significant life stresses. There are roughly speaking, two general categories of psychological trauma:
incremental, or developmental trauma, is an accumulation of "small" life stressors that eventually results in PTSD. And "Shock" trauma, the type of
trauma we think of when we hear about soldiers coming back from war (known in WWI as "shell shock") or a woman who was raped.
So how is trauma a physical event? Here is a short 5 minute clip of a polar bear being hunted.
As the video describes it, the polar bear being chased is in a profound fight-flight defense response. But as it is being captured, it realizes that
it is completely helpless. Heres the background information: a defense response is mediated by the sympathetic nervous system, which includes efferent
fibres running down the spinal column, as well as neuroendocrine response in the form the the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis. When a mammal is
threatened, it activates this HPA axis to mobilize the energy for either fight or flight. Physiologically, energy that is usually directed for growth
and maintenance within the viscera - the digestive organs, heart and lungs - is redirected towards the limbs for fight-flight. This is a major
autonomic event. When an animal is being sufficiently threatened, it's energy is mobilized for a physical action: fight, or flight. But what happens
when this motor activity cannot be completed? As the video shows, when the polar bear enters a FREEZE state, what happens is, the parasympathetic
nervous system puts a BRAKE on the sympathetic fight-fight response. Where has the energy gone in such moments? Neurologically, the motor areas of the
brain are still coding the fight-flight response in procedural memory. But when freeze occurs, this defense response is "stopped". The brain releases
endogenous opiates in high amounts so that the animal will appear "dead" to the predator: in nature, an animal that is not moving is typically ignored
by the predator. Thus, the freeze response is an adaptive response to impending violence: if the predator does attack, the opiates will blunt the pain
via the analgesic effects of opiates. If the animal doesn't attack, the "death feigning" of the freeze response will support survival.
But after the threat has passed, a truly amazing phenomenon occurs. Something called a "freeze discharge" happens. This occurs in ALL mammals who
enter a FREEZE state after an aborted defense response. The Freeze discharge is exactly what is sounds like: the energy contained within the limbs -
held in place by implicit procedural memory, is discharged through convulsive movements. This reboots the autonomic nervous system back to its normal
But in human beings, this response doesn't always complete itself. Thanks to our elaborate tertiary cognitive processes, when trauma happens to us, we
sometimes "can't let go" of it. We are shocked - and instead of recognizing that the danger has passed, and allowing the autonomic nervous system to
reboot itself, we stay in that shocked and dissociated state of mind. Dissociation is the hallmark effect of unresolved trauma. Dissociation is when
the body - the procedural memory of experience - is "separated", and disassociated - from normal working memory. For example, after a traumatic
experience, the person may try to return to normal life, but physically, and emotionally, their autonomic nervous system continues to reenact the
incomplete defense response. This may be limited at first to cues associated with the traumatizing event; for example, a war vet will only get
anxious, freeze, and dissociate, when a relevant cue becomes activated; but overtime, something called "irradiation" happens: the originating cues
begin to become associated overtime with other cues. Now, cues unrelated to the originating trauma can induce dissociation.
Psychological trauma is a disease of procedural memory. It is held in place by regions in the right orbitofrontal cortex, the amygdala, somatomotor
regions, and autonomic regions. Trauma is not merely a "psychological experience", but is a disorder of neurological functioning.
This disorder overtime can even begin to affect the body.
Fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivities, gastroesophegal reflux, are examples of autonomic
dysregulation which effect bodily tissues in different ways. Autonomic dysregulation can also have a stronger effect in the form of procedural motor
disorders. Tics, whiplash syndrome, spastic dysphonia, cumulative trauma disorders, and phantom limb syndrome are some ways in which the brains
procedural memories induce physical stress in particular regions of the body, usually those associated with the originating trauma.
For example, a victim of relational trauma who couldn't complete the defense response of "yelling" at his abusers, who experienced a "Strained vocal
response" when he tried to defend himself, may develop spastic dysphonia. Spastic dysphonia is actually described as a neurological disorder - this
only goes to show the incredible naivete of the medical establishment. Obviosly, spastic dysphonia is an experience dependent condition rooted in
psychological trauma at an early age, often emerging in preverbal periods of development. The stress at vocally communicating distress - a failed
defense response - becomes normalized and habituated within the procedural memory of the brain, which causes spasmodic movements in the larynx during
the act of speech. For someone who developed this condition before explicit-declarative memory was developed, the fact of the traumatic origins of
this condition will remain hidden. However, we do know that almost anyone can develop this condition - or experience it at acute moments of stress,
for example, in a situation where one is being shamed in front of others and finds his voice to be "weak" and "strained" - this is a manifestation of
spastic dysphonia, except that the individual experiencing it recognizes its connection to the contextual events inducing its appearance.
At this point, we still don't know how this aborted stress response affects the medley of human illness. Cancer, asthma, allergies, heart disease, and
many other illnesses may be intrinsically related to disordered autonomic functioning related to unresolved psychological trauma.
Frankly, it is amazing how an emotional experience - unresolved - and kept within the brains unconscious - can have such wide ranging effects on our
mental AND physical health.
edit on 25-2-2014 by Astrocyte because: (no reason given)
I have interest in the effects of trauma because I had a lot of very traumatic experiences as a child, which formed a lot of problems for me growing
up. So I've spent years sort of self-analyzing my difficulties and trying to find ways of overcoming them.
I dissassociate very quickly and fall into a state of apathy and passivity at the very slightest sign of threat from others. This grew to include
almost any situation of pressure. I don't seem to have any flight or fight response- which sounds like what you describe.
As a teen, I got help from a hypnotherapist, which gave me some tools to try to deal with this- because even tests at school would make me draw a
complete blank- like not even remember my own name. It was very debilitating!
I recognized a similar thing in horses that had been abused, in which they were "shut down"- like their mind just went elsewhere - and stayed there.
And I began to think of it as something like depression (without the assumption of negative thoughts or anything, I just mean physically...) and I
observed a phase that happens as they begin to loosen up and feel safer, where they just lose it for a while. You just have to stand back and let them
buck and jump and run for a while. I considered it pent up energy, and this is the first time I have seen anyone else describe what is going on with
So from there, I wondered if people too, go through such a phase? I think I might have gone through something similar at some point in my life, and
much seems to have changed for me since. But that is with a lot of conscious effort to reprogram my response system- gradually facing challenges bit
by bit and fighting to keep my wits about me and stay active.
But it is very hard. To actually hang in there and fight back, or even run, is so much harder to do than to just flee mentally!
Funny thing- I am currently undergoing tests and exams to determine if I have fibromyalgia. I have all the symptoms and it is getting very very
painful- but I've been telling myself it HAS to be something else. I don't know for sure yet. But I had never heard the idea that it could be linked
to trauma this way. It would make sense then....
edit on 25-2-2014 by Bluesma because: (no reason given)
3/4s of PTSD sufferers are women, and 3/4 of people with fibromylagia are women. The same ratio exists with chronic fatigue syndrome as well as IBS.
Because the brain is plastic, trauma CAN be overcome. There are various different techniques therapists use, but a popular one gaining more and more
support is EMDR - eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. Really, EMDR is a bilateral therapy. In people with PTSD, brain imaging scans, like
fMRI show too much lateralization in the right hemisphere of the frontal lobe. This is what has led affective neuroscientists to generalize that
"withdraw" behaviors are processed mostly in the right hemisphere, whereas "approach" behaviors are processed mostly in the left frontal lobes.
This makes a lot of intuitive sense. The left hemispheres language abilities are all "outward" oriented skills used to relate with the world,
whereas the right hemispheres emotional abilities are mostly inward and self reflective i.e. non-linear.
Bilateralization takes advantage of the fact that the different sides of the brain control different sides of the body. Thus, by tapping one side, or
hearing a sound on one side, or seeing something with one eye, and then immediately doing it with the other side/ear/eye, WHILE processing an
emotional memory, helps to integrate the emotional memory within the brain, which in effect helps process the memory between the two hemispheres.
Besides EMDR/Brainspotting (an EMDR offshoot), there is somatic experiencing, motorsensory, cognitive behavioral (usually takes a while) as well as
hypnosis, amongst other techniques, to help someone get over the memory and reprogram their unconscious-implicit modes of relating.
The brain is a fun thing to work with once we get the hang of it. An important part of healing emotional trauma is choosing our contexts. For example,
by associating yourself with resilient people, you will pick up their resilience. And same thing with spending a lot of time with dysfunctional
It's interesting to point out the relationship between right-left hemispheric asymmetries, and the type of world we live in today.
The neuroscientist Ian Mcgilchrist points out in his masterful book "The Master and His Emissary" how understanding brain inter-hemispheric
functioning could - or perhaps should - provide a backbone for how we understand culture, society and ultimately, our experience i.e. a metaphysics.
The brains two hemispheres isn't a coincidence: they really do perform disparate functions. At the most simplistic level, the right hemisphere
processes non-linear information, whereas the left hemisphere processes linear information. Indeed, all states of mind involve interhemispheric
communication, but this doesn't change the fact that some states are more lateralized to the right and others to the left.
In our world today, it is safe to say that the brain is TOO LEFT LATERALIZED. Interestingly, in the case of trauma, the brain shows underactivity in
the left hemisphere and overactivity in the right hemisphere. In a world where logic, reason, science, and skepticism - linear ways of seeing the
world - are overemphasized; and in a world where individualism, the self, and its wants and desires, generally take precedence to community,
relationships, and morality, it is not surprising that there is such a high prevalence of trauma - and the diseases that emerge as a consequence of
unresolved trauma which dysregulates autonomic cycling.
We as a society have truly lost our balance. We too much to the left.
Very informative! Thank you for taking the time and effort to present this information!
I remember reading a book by Louise L. Hay many years ago titled 'You Can Heal Your Life', and she pretty much said we cause our own illnesses.
It seems science is finally beginning to catch up (or prove) what 'fringe' thinkers have intuitively known for a long time.
The body becomes 'petrified', like stone (unable to move) when the freeze happens a lot as a child. If one is shouted at and cannot defend oneself
against the big adults (every child to some or more extent) then it does not just effect the brain. No matter how much the problem is dealt with in
psychotherapy it will remain hidden in the body tensions.
I cannot recommend the work of Alexander Lowen enough - one must address the problem from both ends - mind and body must be worked on. If the body
tensions are not addressed then even after the mind is 'cured' - the tensions in the body will creep back into the mind.
Alexander Lowens books are amazing. www.amazon.co.uk...://www.amazon.co.uk/Pleasure-Creative-Approach-Alexander-Lowen/dp/0974373729/r
This also brings to mind when a parent shouts at a child or hits a child and then gets annoyed with the child for 'sulking'. A child goes into
'freeze' because of the fear and then is told that it's behaviour is wrong just because the parent does not like it. What is the child learning??
The child starts to over ride the body instinct and starts to think that it must please what is 'out there' to survive - it becomes a people pleaser
but it will never be truly joyful or experience pleasure. The resulting grown up disassociates from the body.
edit on 28-2-2014 by
Itisnowagain because: (no reason given)
I recently took a questionaire/test from Facebook that proclaimed "Congratulations! You use both sides of your brain equally!"
But I couldn't get that on paper. (not for the one that determined which animal I should be either...)
To be more serious and on topic,
One of my triggers was sexual intimacy. Having been molested when I was five, later as a young adult, when things would get hot and heavy with a
boyfriend and we got to a point where sex was the next evident step, that could cause me to flip into the paralyzation. I would start to feel scared,
and then just dissassociate.
This is something to consider in some cases of rape, for example? Because this passivity could be taken as consent and acceptance, when in reality it
is anything but.
Because of these types of struggles I had, I later became very critical of psychotherapy (though I had parents who were both shrinks) because it
proposes that psychological problems can all be overcome through verbal expression, mental gymnastics, and (the most recent trend) medication.
I only found effective methods in very physical sorts of therapies, which did not use verbal communication at all.
A big one for me was horsemanship, but also a basic mindfulness in daily activities and in personal relationships.
Being aware of the challenges, having the drive to gradually change the patterns and reflexes, and having well balanced and supportive people in your
life (as you mentioned).
That's why I think just getting this information out there, for people to be aware of, is probably the most important thing one could do.
on 28-2-2014 by Bluesma because: (no reason given)
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