Tag Archive: resilience

Trauma and the Body

When any of us experience a traumatic event (sometimes leading to PTSD) – even once if it’s great enough – it isn’t something that is only emotional or mental. It’s also physical, because when we’re traumatized, we armor physically.

Resilience is something greatly discussed today, because we know now that some people who experience trauma do not armor as much as others.  The reason lies in how they were supported after the traumatic event; and this support, in turn, helped them reduce their physical, and then mental and emotional armoring.

Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist from the Netherlands, became interested in how to successfully help Viet Nam veterans. As a young practitioner, he was introduced to a vet who was having nightmares; he offered him drugs to help him sleep, and after a few weeks, the vet gave the drugs back to him, saying he preferred to have the nightmares as a living testament to those who suffered the trauma with him. He realized then that trauma sufferers hold that trauma in their hearts, minds and also their bodies.

From his ensuing work with vets, he came to appreciate that traumatized people don’t remember the story. Instead they re-experience the event, as if it was happening right now. The images, sounds, smells – all physical sensations – are as real now as they were at the time of the event.

Yet, for those vets who were able to move on, their stories changed over time, eventually being  integrated into their past. Those vets were able to move on.

From studies in neuropsychology, we know that the Amygdala is involved in registering and holding trauma, by either becoming hypersensitive or shutting down. This means the person experiencing a current event may be hypersensitive to it and react as if it were traumatizing and life-threatening, and at the same time, be insensitive to the consequences of their reactions to those around them.

Trauma, being held, cuts us off from our bodies.

Wilhelm Reich, in the 1950’s recognized this and developed his theory of Character Structures as a result. Others refined his work – Alexander Lowen, Stephen Johnson, Jack Painter, and many others more recently, base their work on this recognition. Much earlier, shamanic traditions recognized this phenomenon and learned to effectively deal with it.

These practitioners, including van der Kolk, prior to working with the traumatized person on integrating their story, help them reconnect with their bodies. Van der Kolk uses yoga; others use different kinds of massage and exercises, similar to yoga. The mind-body movement popular today is, in some part, an effort to reconnect mind and body, recognizing the essential need to be able to feel in a sensual/perceptual way, how an experience impacts a person.

If you’ve experienced trauma and it continues to impact you, then a way to begin to work with it is through some form of exercise that begins the process of de-armoring. This may be through yoga or some other physical activity that stretches and tenses different parts of your body. It may be working with a therapist who can support you as you learn to regain mastery over your physical actions and reactions. It’s my specialty, and that of many others.

Whatever you decide, know that it is possible to live free of trauma, and to regain that part of yourself that was once lost.

Our society and PTSD

 

Quote of the Week 

Armor: It’s how we protect ourselves from vulnerability. We just engage in a behavior that confirms our fear.”
― Brené Brown

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Need more? At times we need more  – we know the logic, know what to do. And yet something is still blocking us.  I offer both one-on-one consultations and coaching packages.  For more information, visit my website www.thejoyofliving.co/services-and-programs or contact me directly at maryanne@thejoyofliving.co .

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist and Life Coach.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co.

Trauma and the Body

When any of us experience a traumatic event (sometimes leading to PTSD) – even once if it’s great enough – it isn’t something that is only emotional or mental. It’s also physical, because when we’re traumatized, we armor physically.

Resilience is something greatly discussed today, because we know now that some people who experience trauma do not armor as much as others.  The reason lies in how they were supported after the traumatic event; and this support, in turn, helped them reduce their physical, and then mental and emotional armoring.

Bessel van der Kolk, a psychiatrist from the Netherlands, became interested in how to successfully help Viet Nam veterans. As a young practitioner, he was introduced to a vet who was having nightmares; he offered him drugs to help him sleep, and after a few weeks, the vet gave the drugs back to him, saying he preferred to have the nightmares as a living testament to those who suffered the trauma with him. He realized then that trauma sufferers hold that trauma in their hearts, minds and also their bodies.

From his ensuing work with vets, he came to appreciate that traumatized people don’t remember the story. Instead they re-experience the event, as if it was happening right now. The images, sounds, smells – all physical sensations – are as real now as they were at the time of the event.

Yet, for those vets who were able to move on, their stories changed over time, eventually being  integrated into their past. Those vets were able to move on.

From studies in neuropsychology, we know that the Amygdala is involved in registering and holding trauma, by either becoming hypersensitive or shutting down. This means the person experiencing a current event may be hypersensitive to it and react as if it were traumatizing and life-threatening, and at the same time, be insensitive to the consequences of their reactions to those around them.

Trauma, being held, cuts us off from our bodies.

Wilhelm Reich, in the 1950’s recognized this and developed his theory of Character Structures as a result. Others refined his work – Alexander Lowen, Stephen Johnson, Jack Painter, and many others more recently, base their work on this recognition. Much earlier, shamanic traditions recognized this phenomenon and learned to effectively deal with it.

These practitioners, including van der Kolk, prior to working with the traumatized person on integrating their story, help them reconnect with their bodies. Van der Kolk uses yoga; others use different kinds of massage and exercises, similar to yoga. The mind-body movement popular today is, in some part, an effort to reconnect mind and body, recognizing the essential need to be able to feel in a sensual/perceptual way, how an experience impacts a person.

If you’ve experienced trauma and it continues to impact you, then a way to begin to work with it is through some form of exercise that begins the process of de-armoring. This may be through yoga or some other physical activity that stretches and tenses different parts of your body. It may be working with a therapist who can support you as you learn to regain mastery over your physical actions and reactions. It’s my specialty, and that of many others.

Whatever you decide, know that it is possible to live free of trauma, and to regain that part of yourself that was once lost.

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Maryanne

 

Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co 

The Gift of “Negative” Emotions

emotions

I was with a friend I hadn’t seen for years, and after being with her for an hour, I remembered why. She was hopelessly positive about everything. She had one rule about life, and that was to look only to the positive.

I understand what motivated her life’s rule – she didn’t want to descend into feeling hopeless and negative, and she was afraid she would if she stopped clinging to the positive.  But what it did was alienate her from her own emotions, relegating some to bad and evil, and others to good.

Her rule also made it impossible for me to have a meaningful conversation with her; and I simply drifted away to more meaningful relationships.

In university, I learned that emotions represent our value judgments.  They’re neither bad nor good. They simply let us know when we judge something as good or bad for us.  When we feel pain, it’s because we’ve lost something or someone dear to us, or because we feel threatened by such a loss.  When we feel joy, it’s because something or someone we value has connected with us – like an unforgettable sunset, or the face of a loved one we haven’t seen for a long time.

Psychologist Susan David argues we need what she terms emotional agility to thrive in a complex world. Refusing to feel certain emotions that we judge as “bad” will eventually lead to a loss of control over our lives, and plunge us into depression.  Sometimes depression is expressed in a sense of hopelessness; most often is hides an unexpressed rage and anger. And so long as that anger is left locked down or bottled up, it will control us completely.

Research shows that when we ignore or bottle up an emotion, is simply gets stronger.  It’s what happens when we obsess over something – like burnt marshmallow ice cream, or French fries, or that perfect size 2 figure.  It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as we try to ignore it, it will begin to dominate our thoughts.  We’ll notice ice cream wherever we go, or anyone with the figure we want.

The same is true with any ignored emotion.  I can’t imagine bottling up good feelings – ignoring how my heart soars when I see that sunset – but I can imagine ignoring the pain of being disrespected. When I ignore such pain, I tend to get super “professional”, until one day in the near future I don’t want to get out of bed, or I can’t get to sleep.

Bottling up our emotions simply doesn’t work. It literally makes us sick.

Ms. David’s and other research shows that in today’s world, a third of us judge our emotions as “good” or “bad”, and that depression is now the number one cause of disability in the world.

Not dealing with all our emotions stops us from dealing with the world as it is and plunges us into a world of fantasy. It renders us ineffective and non-resilient, unable to effectively deal with what life gives us.

The truth is that the only way to living happy is accepting all our emotions. When we accurately identify what we feel, we can better understand what is causing us to feel as we do. And this understanding generates our ability to take effective steps to deal with that cause.

Accepting, and honoring, all our feelings leads to resilience, and resilience leads to living a happy and contented life.

As Ms. David concludes, “discomfort is the price of admission to a meaningful life”.

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Maryanne Nicholls is a Registered Psychotherapist.  To find out more, gain access to her weekly newsletter, meditations and programmes, sign up at www.thejoyofliving.co .