How Trauma Affects Our Lives

A trauma is defined as an event that you (and your body) perceive to be life threatening. You may not remember the event, but your body does – hence the body/behaviour symptoms that arise that willpower alone cannot budge.

The symptoms that people bring that are normally associated with a trauma include, panic attacks, obsessions, anxiety, phobias, tremors, insomnia. All such symptoms are signs that there is probably an unfinished trauma still in your body and nervous system (ANS).

In a traumatic situation our animal instincts are activated to protect us. Our basic fight/flight responses are fired up to save our life. In those moments when we perceive we could die, our defensive responses fire up automatically to defend and save our life.

These defences show up as: the body getting ready to run, adrenalin pumping, the heart racing, the muscles pumped and preparing to go, the pupils in the eyes enlarging looking to find an escape route. Depending on the situation, the body could be readying to fight and defend itself. Upper arm muscles tightening, hands become fists, body stiffening for protection, reflexes getting ready to fire rapidly in a certain sequence to save ones self.

If these defences do not have a chance to activate and complete (and the person survives) this nervous system response stays in the body until it is one day discharged and completed. And it can stay there long after the event, years after. Our body coping systems can mask the symptoms of a past trauma. However some added stress in our life at any particular point in time can overload our body’s ability to cope. When this happens the trauma symptoms that were masked and maintained fairly well, expose themselves, they come to the surface. In most cases the small added stress in the environment is enough to tip the scales. So it cannot make sense when the strong symptoms appear how such a small event could bring on such strong symptoms. (I can attest to this from personal experience).

This shows up in a person when we call someone hyperactive. The person cannot sit still or relax down. They are always on the go.

Another response to the trauma at the time, if the defences could not fire up at all, is for the person (your body) to go into a freezing state. That is a state of going numb, limp, spacing out, a sense of leaving ones body. Again this response stays in the body too, long after the event until it also has a chance to release and allow the active defence responses to complete.

If you find yourself spacing out or daydreaming during the day, disappearing, when you are in a situation you don’t want to be. That can well be a sign that there is a past trauma activated that you have decided you do not want to feel right now, so you space out to keep it in check. Keep it at bay. It’s a brilliant coping mechanism we all have to ‘get on’ with our lives.

Spacing out is basically a form of leaving your feelings (as well as leaving other things). This is a subset of leaving your body.

In a trauma body psychotherapy session I would work with you to keep you present, in the here and now, noticing and catching when you leave.