Readings: Healing Trauma & PTSD

Body-Based Therapies Address the Trauma Imprints Left in the Body

According to van der Kolk, trauma is not the story we tell about the violence we endured or the horrible accident we witnessed; it’s not even the event itself. Instead it’s the stuff we can’t let go of—what van der Kolk calls the “residue of imprints” (and yogis call samskaras) that gets left behind in our neurophysiology (our sensory and hormonal systems). Van der Kolk… says that traumatized people are “terrified of the sensations in their own bodies,” so it’s imperative that they get some sort of body-based therapy to feel safe again, he says, and learn to care for themselves. – Linda Sparrowe

Releasing the Body Defuses Trauma Memories

Although this phase [of “unwinding the body” to release emotion stored in the body] can be extremely intense, it doesn’t have to be lengthy. What takes a really long time is not healing yourself; that feels like an eternity… When you truly let your entire experience unfreeze and let the body go through the necessary releases, you can never be traumatized by that memory again! It becomes just another memory. I, and many others, have lived this truth. That is not to say this process is easy or for the faint of heart, but your efforts will be well-rewarded. – Susan Pease Banitt

Somatic Experiencing Completes the Unfinished Process

We understand that these [trauma] symptoms merely indicate unresolved activation or energy “stuck” in the body… By noticing what happens and allowing those natural self-protective impulses to be felt, sometimes with awareness of the micro-movements that allow the body to sense more fully the capacity to protect itself [somatic experiencing], we experience the actual reality that the danger is over and we can finally settle, bringing the entire cycle to completion. – Mark Banschick, MD

A Way to Process Intense Emotions in an Incremental & Healthy Way

“The trick is not to deny, but not to get swept away” with anger or other intense emotions associated with trauma, Levine suggests. Feeling these emotions as “physical sensations in the body,” and releasing these sensations incrementally, he notes, is an important way to safely free stored energy associated with the trauma, and re-channel this energy into pleasurable activities. Irrespective of whether you are dealing with a traumatic life event, or ‘simply’ high levels of stress, Somatic Experiencing offers important insights into how we can process intense emotions such as anger, grief, and fear in an incremental and healthy way. It recognizes that the experiences of our minds and our bodies are intertwined, allowing for healing at a deeper level. – B. Grace Bullock PhD

In The Body Keeps the Score chapter on Language, van der Kolk explains the importance of acknowledging and naming what happened. But he also explains the limitations of language:

Knowing Oneself vs Telling Your Story

Trauma stories lessen the isolation of trauma, and they provide an explanation for why people suffer the way they do… But stories also obscure a more important issue, namely that trauma radically changes people: that in fact they no longer are “themselves.” It is excruciatingly difficult to put that feeling of no longer being yourself into words… We can get past the slipperiness of words by engaging the self-observing, body-based self system, which speaks through sensations, tone of voice, and body tensions. Being able to perceive visceral sensations is the very foundation of emotional awareness. If a patient tells me that he was eight when his father deserted the family, I am likely to stop and ask him to check in with himself. What happens inside when he tells me about that boy who never saw his father again? Where is it registered in his body? When you activate your gut feelings and listen to your heartbreak—when you follow the interoceptive pathways to your innermost recesses—things begin to change. – Bessel van der Kolk MD