Category: Health & Healing

Healing the Trauma that You Don’t Know You Have

Most people living today are more traumatized than they know. But how could that be? 

When we experience very distressing events, our nervous system goes into a state of overwhelm (or what neuroscientists call dysregulation). You may end up feeling less like yourself, unable to have a healthy range of experiences, but can’t easily connect the dots mentally or heal emotionally. It’s not your fault that this happens—it’s your nervous system’s built-in way of protecting you, and it happens outside your conscious awareness. 

However, you can learn to recognize the effects of trauma. You can follow those threads through the maze of your past, to find ways of healing in the present that will improve your health mentally and emotionally.

Types of Trauma

While individuals differ in their responses, there are broad categories of trauma that we should all know exist: childhood trauma, racial trauma, sexual trauma, religious trauma, narcissistic abuse, war, pandemics and other natural disasters, and intergenerational trauma. Three of these types are briefly covered below.

Childhood Trauma

No family is perfect, but some do active harm. Too often, children suffer neglect and physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, often with no outside resources to protect them. Childhood trauma can also happen if the mother is treated violently, someone in the family has substance abuse problems or a mental illness, the parents are going through a divorce or separation, or one of the parents or a sibling dies. 

In all of these situations, because a child’s nervous system is not yet fully developed, the childhood trauma often goes unidentified until something triggers a memory or compounds it, years or decades later.  

Narcissistic Abuse

Many of us know someone who exhibits signs of narcissism, focusing exclusively on themselves and unable to empathize with or “make room for” others. If you’ve suffered abuse by a narcissist, whether they were a parent, partner, or boss, you may no longer trust your instincts in relationships or feel guilty about things that aren’t actually your fault or responsibility. You may feel you have to be “special” to gain recognition, and you may have developed a case of perfectionism to keep away the shame that your abuser made you feel for not living up to their impossible standard.

Global Events: Pandemic Trauma and War Trauma

The pandemic put virtually all of us into a “sustained survival mode” that evoked or caused trauma. The pandemic saw a 25 percent increase in anxiety and depression, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As a shared trauma, it also led to widespread Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and burnout among health-care workers. It affected parents who had to juggle supervising their children and working from home while schools were closed. And it deeply impacted those who experienced the loss of a loved one unexpectedly to COVID, who were often not able to say goodbye in person, weaving trauma into the fabric of their grief.

The first formally identified cases of PTSD (known as “shell-shock”) were in soldiers who served during World War I. Tragically, wars have been embedded into the human experience since recorded history. No matter whether it be the recent conflict in the Ukraine, the uprising in Iran, or ongoing conflicts elsewhere, the impact on the psyche of those living in those areas is severe. As widespread violence and threats of violence go on, month after month, traumatic stress compounds for both soldiers and civilians living in warzones. Even in areas where conflict is not directly taking place, there can be trauma impressed into those living in ongoing fear of nuclear war or attack.

How Trauma Works in the Nervous System

To understand your trauma, you’ll need to get to know your nervous system and how it responds to signals of danger, real or perceived.

Over the course of human evolution, our nervous system developed three kinds of responses to threats to help us get through dangerous experiences intact. These subsystems are known as: social engagement, sympathetic mobilization, and parasympathetic immobilization systems. They usually operate below our conscious awareness, but when someone experiences ongoing distress or a trauma that doesn’t resolve, the neurological connections behind these responses get strengthened and we become “stuck” in maladaptive patterns—through no fault of our own.

When the social engagement system responds, we look for help or someone to rescue us from the situation. If this response is encouraged, we may habitually “fawn” around others, hoping to appease anyone causing us distress. We can develop too much compassion for others, leading us to forget to care for ourselves, which over time creates more stress and trauma in our nervous system.

When the sympathetic nervous system responds, we engage in “fight, flight, or freeze,” to try to figure out what to do with the threat (freeze), then to subdue it (fight), or else escape it (flight). When this system is “stuck” in overdrive, we may have problems like depression, anxiety, or phobias.

If all other tactics fail, the parasympathetic nervous system can still put us into a collapsed, shut-down state (“faint”), as a way to survive with the least possible amount of damage when fighting or fleeing aren’t possible. This state is linked to depression and dissociation.

Symptoms of Trauma and PTSD

If you’ve sustained any form of trauma in the past, you may experience various difficulties, depending on the way the trauma got stuck in your system:

  • Anxiety or Panic Attacks
  • Denial
  • Feeling emotionally numb or hopeless
  • Hypervigilance
  • Difficulty connecting with others
  • Overwhelming shame or guilt
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Addictions
  • Insomnia and dysregulated sleep
  • Flashbacks

Another way to determine whether you’ve dealt with trauma is to think about how you show up in a relationship. Do you enjoy some of your interactions with others, or do you often feel inner pressure around everyone you meet? Do you feel nurtured by one or more people in your life, or do you feel responsible to everyone, all the time? Do you feel uncertain around your loved ones, like you’re not really sure you can rely on them? 

When we’ve experienced trauma in a past relationship, be it with a neglectful parent, an erratic partner, or an abusive boss, our nervous system tracks the impact, and it affects our present relationships—until we shed light on what’s happened and learn how to work through its effects on us.

Treatments for Trauma

In the last few decades, neurobiology has blossomed and cross-pollinated with psychology. New discoveries have been made, new theories have been tested, and thankfully, a range of therapies and treatments for trauma have been developed to help us cultivate deep self-regulation. Among them are somatic therapies such as Somatic Experiencing and sensorimotor psychotherapy, trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and “brainspotting,” and trauma-informed psychodynamic therapy.

Therapy is a wonderful option, but if you’ve been through individual therapy or want additional support, there are other ways to learn skills to work through trauma. 

By committing to your own healing, you’ll not only create greater balance in your life, you will stop trauma from being passed on to the next generation—and you’ll bring a healing presence into the world.

If you’d like support in your commitment to healing trauma, you can check out The Healing Trauma Program, hosted by Jeffrey Rutstein, PsyD, CHT.

Gabor Maté: Healing into Wholeness in a Toxic Culture

Celebrated author and physician Dr. Gabor Maté has become one of the world’s foremost voices on the journey of healing from trauma—in large part because it is a path he walks himself. In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks with Dr. Maté about his new book, The Myth of Normal, sharing breakthrough insights into the nature of trauma and some of the necessary steps for our personal and collective recovery. 

Give a listen as Tami and Dr. Maté discuss the truth of our interconnectedness; disease as a process, not a distinct entity; self-compassion and honoring our suffering; an inquiry practice—the happy childhood challenge; the emotional work that healing requires; the concepts of wholeness and recovery; the essence of trauma—disconnection from the Self; experiencing your own natural goodness; psychedelics and the veil between the conscious and the unconscious; closing the gap between science and the practice of medicine; learning how to say no before your body does; and more.

This episode first aired live and on video on Sounds True One. To watch Insights at the Edge episodes live and on video, and to access additional bonus Q&A, please visit join.soundstrue.com to learn more.

Christopher Willard: How We Grow Through What We Go Th...

Most of us are familiar with the concept of post-traumatic stress. Fortunately, there’s another way we can respond to extreme adversity. This is what researchers call post-traumatic growth—and it’s something we’re all biologically “hardwired” to access, to turn even our most difficult experiences into a source of resilience and strength. 

In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks with clinical psychologist and author Dr. Christopher Willard about “how we grow through what we go through”—which is also the title of his new book. Tune in as they explore how meditation can literally be lifesaving; avoiding the trap of spiritual bypassing; the “10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows” of our lives; embodiment practices and nervous system self-regulation; mindfulness and the capacity to respond rather than react; the practice of stretching the breath; acting ourselves into a new way of thinking and feeling; how there are many ways to healing and recovery—and finding the best for yourself; the power of posture; the connection between self-compassion and personal transformation; the practice of putting your hand on your heart; becoming a source of co-regulation for others; the concept of downstream and upstream reciprocity; and more.

Yung Pueblo: Becoming Lighter Through a Strong Determi...

If you meditate on the truth of change, your life can start to flow like a river, with opportunities for healing at every bend. This spirit of liberation infuses Yung Pueblo’s newest book, Lighter, in which he shares healing wisdom accumulated over his years of devoted meditation practice. In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks with Diego Perez (who writes as Yung Pueblo) about his inspiring new book and the potential we each have to be part of “the healing generation.”

Listen in to Tami and Diego’s heartening conversation, in which they discuss the shift from focusing on survival to sitting with the truth, having a strong determination to heal, the difference between satisfying cravings and following your intuition, why power makes the ego so dense, how meditation can open up the concept of self, “structural compassion,” and much more.

This episode first aired live and on video on Sounds True One. To watch Insights at the Edge episodes live and on video, and to access additional bonus Q&A, please visit join.soundstrue.com to learn more.

Gabby Bernstein: The Self-Led Journey Through Addictio...

Is it really possible to heal our deepest wounds and live a life without fear and anxiety? According to Gabby Bernstein, the answer is an emphatic yes. In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks with Gabby about what it means to be led by the Self—that mysterious center of our being that can witness everything we experience in life from a compassionate center connected with source energy. 

Settle in for an inspiring conversation exploring: why our “clean vulnerability” can be our greatest strength; Internal Family Systems therapy and how it helps us heal from the inside out; activating calmness, connection, curiosity, commitment, and other “C qualities”; invoking our loving and wise inner parent; the four S’s: to be seen, soothed, safe, and secure; the connection between healing our trauma and healing our attachment style; embracing our shameful experiences with compassion; psychosomatic illness and “hiding behind the body”; the power of co-regulation; developing a relationship with your spiritual guidance system and reaching a place of faith in the future; and more.

This episode first aired live and on video on Sounds True One. To watch Insights at the Edge episodes live and on video, and to access additional bonus Q&A, please visit join.soundstrue.com to learn more.

Melissa Brown: Nourishing Your Nervous System

When was the last time you felt truly relaxed, present, and at peace with everything going on in your life and in our world? In this podcast, Tami Simon speaks with Melissa Brown about her new audio learning program, Nourishing Your Nervous System, and how we can begin to empower ourselves to choose the state of regulation over dysregulation. Give a listen to this practical and inspiring discussion of the ventral vagal branch of the parasympathetic nervous system—and how we can access it for calm, joy, and vitality; co-regulation with others as a means to move out of dorsal depression; productive thinking versus rumination and other forms of unhealthy thinking; the elongated breath as a tool for shifting out of sympathetic arousal (or the “fight, flight, freeze” response); improving your “vagal tone”; doom-scrolling, binge-watching, and other ways we distract ourselves from what we don’t want to feel—and how we can learn to hold a state of vitality and a state of tension at the same time; the psoas muscles and their connection to nervous system activation; the benefits of “constructive rest pose”; “fixed action patterns” and how the psoas muscles store trauma; attuning to your heart; and more.

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