Secret Wounds: How the body stores trauma
By Molly McMillan
The word trauma comes from the Greek word for injury. Today it’s considered an event that is unbearable or intolerable, and is either physical or emotional. A traumatic event causes us to go into survival mode, and accesses the most primitive part of our brain, our reflexes. We try to fight it or flee from it. If we can’t, we freeze. This happens without conscious thought. Our bodies do it for us. This is our wild, instinctual side, and its goal is to survive, not to win. The freeze mode is the most problematic for us as humans. When we freeze, our bodies become immobilized and play dead; we can’t move, so we disassociate, and numb out. But, the energy for fighting or fleeing is still revving up. It’s like having one foot on the brake and one on the gas. When the threat is gone, and we’ve survived, our bodies need to release this pent up and frozen energy. It does this naturally by thawing, shaking, making sounds or releasing emotions. This is when our neo-cortex gets in the way, and we resist this healthy process. We fear it. We judge it. And, obsess over how we “should” have escaped. Our fascial system (the connective tissue fabric of our bodies) tightens down where the injury occurred. Our reflexive system is still activated. So, we continue to brace against a threat that is now gone. This bracing causes the fascial fabric to pull systemically creating an overall restrictive holding pattern. Our bodies release stress hormones, prioritize the functions that are necessary for fight or flight, and take away from those that are not. Our heart rates rise, we can’t think clearly, we get angry or cry too easily or uncontrollably, and our digestive system malfunctions. This weakens our whole beings so we are more vulnerable to injury, disease and being further traumatized. We can still function, we are smart, and we think we should be over it. We get mad at ourselves and continue to push through our lives until something happens that makes us stop and get help. This may be many years later. Healing happens when we can access this stuck trauma that lies in hiding within our fascial system. Clients come in and complain of a current problem. It may be TMJ, hip pain or fibromyalgia. It’s only as we work with the tissues that are stuck, and the client develops an awareness of their bodies that things let go. When they do, there may be memories, emotions, energy, and belief systems from a past trauma. For example, I had a client with TMJ who suffered from severe jaw pain. She would grind her teeth and night and wake up with a migraine. As we worked with her stuck tissues, the experience of having a dental procedure entered her mind, her body began to shake, she started to cry, and her tissues released. This experience was traumatic for her six-year-old self. She was forced to have it done, she couldn’t fight or flee, so she froze. She was told it wasn’t that bad, and that she should just get over it. So, she put it out of her conscious mind, and it wasn’t until 15 years later when her TMJ pain became unbearable, that she could make the connection, give herself the support she needed then, and let it go. Per USA Today, 11/2014, the top seven healthcare problems Americans face are hypothyroidism, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, breathing disorders, anxiety and depression, heartburn and reflux. All of which could have their roots in a traumatic event. There are many healing modalities that access this stuck trauma in the body. Besides myofascial release, massage, yoga, EMDR, and other forms of psychosomatic therapy are recommended.