People who have experienced unprocessed trauma often report common symptoms such as intrusive thoughts, mood changes, memory loss, and more. However, some individuals may be struggling with unresolved trauma without even realizing it. The consequences of trauma can be difficult to cope with, but if left untreated, it can have even more debilitating effects. Fortunately, there are ways to process trauma and move it from its suppressed location in the body to long-term memory, where it no longer affects the survivor on a regular basis.
So, what is trauma? Trauma occurs when the psychological stress of a situation is greater than someone's ability to cope with it at that time. It can be caused by a single acute event, such as a car accident or sexual assault, or by sustained chronic stress, such as war or child abuse. Since trauma is subjective and depends on an individual's ability to cope with it, different events can be traumatic for different people. Sometimes people are able to cope incredibly well with what may seem like incredibly traumatic events due to their existing resilience and the support they received during and after the event.
Alternatively, what may objectively seem like an everyday occurrence can be traumatizing for some people due to long-term stressors. Only the person who experienced the event can assess whether the event was traumatic, although they may need professional help to do so. One way to process trauma is through shadow work. Shadow work offers another perspective for exploring different parts of ourselves that we keep hidden, usually due to shame or inadequacy.
Intentional movement is another tool that can be used to process trauma and release stored energy in the body. By using techniques such as therapy, intentional movements and shadow work, individuals can learn to overcome past traumas and release associated body tension. The ability to recognize psychological and emotional trauma has undergone a revolution over the years. In his book “Awakening the Tiger”, Peter Levine details how somatic experience can support the processing of traumatic memories.
According to the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM), unprocessed trauma attacks the telomere of cells in which physical and mental health symptoms occur. This is why mindfulness is a key factor in starting the healing and treatment recovery process for a trauma survivor.Finding the right treatment for a trauma survivor is personal and should be led by the survivor themselves. For more information on developing skills to practice recovery from trauma, see Heidi Hanson's blog on pendulum use and its 13 benefits for treating depression, anxiety and other related traumatic symptoms. Nadine Burke-Harris's TEDTalk talk is another incredible source of understanding of how ACEs affect trauma survivors.Ultimately, psychological or emotional trauma is damage or injury to the psyche after experiencing an extremely frightening or distressing event and can cause difficulties in functioning or coping normally after the event.
Once processed, it stops attacking the telomere and the trauma survivor can reduce the negative results of a reduction in life expectancy, physical health, or mental health.