“The somatic experiencing I undertook with Bevis for my PTSD it is safe to say effectively cured me. It’s a subtle process, uniquely tailored, but ultimately was very effective. It brought alot of my old confidence back and since then I’ve done an uproarious Best Man’s speech for my brother and had a successful appearance on Dragons’ Den – quite a result!”
Ben H, London
Anyone who thinks they might be suffering from symptoms related to shock, trauma or excessive stress should first watch my short vodcast (see the Somatic Experiencing section of the New Medicine Group website). This is because understanding what has happened to your nervous system can enormously help with recovery; it just makes you feel more ‘normal’!
Many people think they have a weird disease process or a psychological disorder. This is nearly always not the case.
Trauma is; the reaction in the nervous system to being overwhelmed, helpless, unable to act.
So the trauma reaction is a perfectly normal biological reaction to very unusual circumstances. But it can produce some very strange, worrying and relentless symptoms.
The more stress you are exposed to, the more the nervous system recruits ancient parts of itself, built in to enhance survival. At first, this is the so-called fight/flight process with its high energy, high arousal, high alert states. If this continues for too long (typically in humans this can be months at a time), it becomes ‘learned’, that is, it becomes your normal state and you may need to re-learn the relaxation process. If the stress is overwhelming – rendering you helpless – then the most basic and powerful survival system of all is activated; this is the ‘freeze’ or ‘shut down’ response.
The ‘freeze’ response is nothing short of your body’s last ditch attempt at staying alive. It exists in some form in all animals. In wild animals it can enhance survival because many predators lose interest in inert prey. During the freeze response, the breathing rate and the heart rate falls – so vital resources are used up much more slowly – and the brain secretes chemicals which can powerfully numb pain – useful if you are going to be someone else’s lunch! Nature’s mercy process.
Humans display a wide variety of different ‘partial versions’ of the freeze response. It’s unusual to see a person completely collapse during a shocking event – although this does happen. More usual is a dream-like, disconnected state; spaced out or numbed; not fully present. Parts of the body can feel not present. Emotional expression can be deadened. Clarity of thought can suffer. This ‘shut down’ state can encompass a very wide variety of symptoms – I give a list in the vodcast. States like this can interfere with everything from relationships to digestion.
More common is an alternating ‘loop’ between the shut down state – the freeze – and an anxiety state – the ‘fight/flight’. The high adrenalin fight/flight state causes agitation, excessive worry, over-alertness, sleeplessness, excessive fear or aggression, panic attacks, etc. But it can also co-exist with feelings of being disconnected – a very confusing mix!
Intrusive thoughts, feelings and flashbacks are also common, because the brain is caught in the traumatic moment, as it were; it cannot put the event into ordinary memory because the event isn’t ‘finished’. The nervous system acts as if it is still trying to resolve the traumatic event. The freeze response stepped in and interrupted the active, high-energy self-preservation behavior in the act, as it were. The nervous system wants to ‘finish off what it started’ – only then can it calm down.
There are two kinds of trauma – ‘shock’ trauma and ‘developmental’ trauma.
Shock trauma is a term used for the one-off shocking events – an accident, injury, episode of physical or sexual abuse, flood, fire, experience of battle, medical procedure, and so on. If you’ve been perfectly healthy up to this point then the post-traumatic problems you’ve got are likely to be relatively straight-forward to resolve.
Developmental trauma is when your up-bringing was troubled by lack of nurturing; neglect, abandonment or abuse. These kinds of experiences are often repeated over and over again and produce a lack of resilience in the nervous system. Symptoms attributable to this type of trauma require more lengthy therapy.
Many people have symptoms that are attributable to both of these types of trauma. Often there’s the shock type superimposed upon the effects of the developmental kind.
The aim of any treatment is to try to teach the traumatised nervous system to soothe itself. The vital thing is to gently bring the nervous system out of the frozen state, and reinstate healthy bodily movements, reflexes and energy flow. This is done by mobilizing the nervous system energy that has become ‘bound’ to body tissues (or repeated behavior).
All these problems are best understood as being nervous system injuries; they’re not mental disorders.
Trapped trauma energy can result in:
Muscular pain and tension
Lethargy and exhaustion
Anxiety, hyper vigilance, feeling on guard
Sensitivity to sound and light
Irritable bowel syndrome
Chronic and unexplained pain, fibromyalgia
Memory loss and Inability to think clearly
Feelings of shame and guilt
The list goes on and on…….
See the section on Somatic Experiencing for an explanation of how the treatment works.