Trauma: Maybe Not What You Think

When people think of trauma, they often think of the “big” stuff, like combat, child abuse, car accidents, and natural disasters. And from there, the thought process often goes: PTSD…flashbacks…find a therapist…fix the head.


Big stuff can be traumatic, but so can many other things we often discount.

And the symptoms of trauma are a lot broader than flashbacks.

And it’s not the “head” that’s traumatized—it’s the whole body.

Which is key.

It means we can’t just “talk to the head” to transform trauma; we have to talk to the body. And much of that conversation happens below the level of the conscious mind.

First, a definition…

Right, so people (really) argue over the definition of trauma. But for our purposes, trauma happens when your survival or well-being is threatened by something that overwhelms your capacity to respond and leaves you feeling terrified and helpless.

Trauma can fly under the radar

A lot of common experiences can be traumatizing. For instance, many medical procedures routinely cause trauma, especially for small children or if you were immobilized or anesthetized. Other examples include:

  • Repetitive painful childhood experiences like bullying, neglect, or a lack of support for being gay
  • Sudden death of a loved one
  • Difficult birth (for mom or baby)
  • Illness or high fevers
  • Falls and physical injuries

…and so much more.

How humans muck it up

Our bodies are uniquely designed to move through traumatic experiences unscathed. Animals in the wild do it all of the time. An antelope escapes a wolf pack. It bucks and trembles, shaking off the adrenaline. It walks away calmly.

But humans…

Our big brains take over and stop this instinctual process—or well-meaning people interfere. We shut down the shaking. We don’t let our bodies kick or block or run. All of that fight-or-flight chemistry and energy just implodes, getting stuck in our bodies.

How this shows up

That’s when the headaches start…or the nightmares, the constant anxiety, the crummy immunity, the depression. Or maybe its muscle tension or hair-trigger anger. Maybe you jump at the slightest sound. Maybe you can’t feel pleasure.

Trauma symptoms show up in a million ways. But they are all held in the body…old events on replay, like a broken record. Through body sensing, we can tune in to the “recording” and let it play through in a new way, rewiring and releasing the trauma.

Next month, in part two of this topic, I’ll describe how.

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