Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Chronic health issues and trauma

Chronic health issues are directly correlated with adverse childhood experiences, if not directly caused by them in many cases. Many people don’t think of chronic health issues, particularly physical conditions such as heart disease, as even being related to traumatic stress. The common belief is that you can only be traumatised by dramatic events such as wars.

However, psychologist Robert Rhoton dispels that myth with the following example: If a soldier produces a cup of cortisol in response to a dramatic experience, a child experiencing twenty supposedly small events a day can produce the same amount, a teaspoon at a time. They both produce a cup of cortisol, yet very often her experience will be minimised and even ridiculed if anyone dares suggest that she is going through something traumatic. Their biology, however, tells the same story and our biology doesn’t lie. In addition, trauma could be ongoing in the child’s case, day in, day out with no end in sight, especially if her caregivers are the source of the trauma. That is a perfect recipe for trauma: fear, helplessness and being/feeling trapped. As Pierre Janet said back in 1909: traumas produce their disintegrating effects in proportion to their intensity, duration and repetition.


Because of the distinction between small t and big T trauma (terms I don't agree with), many people minimise their experiences, saying that they don’t have much to complain about or that’s the way children were raised when they were young. But our body often tells a different story as psychologist Alice Miller wrote in her book The Body Never Lies. When we have accumulated unresolved stress it builds up in the body and the mind and causes various dis-eases and we need to take this very very seriously.

Exercises and techniques that help us regulate our nervous systems are invaluable in helping us to release any stress from our bodies. It is crucial that we seek out what works for us, so stress doesn’t build up. One of my favourite exercises to release stress is from Peter Levine, called pendulation. I also like to tap, but I find sometimes that I’m tapping with the intention of getting rid of something, so EFT won’t work well for me in that case. That’s when I use pendulation because it allows me to hold the opposites of how I’m feeling (tense, afraid, ashamed in some parts of my body and relaxed, calm or neutral in other parts) together, without needing the difficult emotions or sensations to go away.

Over time, pendulation and other self regulation exercises, help enlarge our container and capacity for difficult emotions and physical sensations which is very empowering and calming. Very often our biggest stressor can be the fear and overwhelm that we can’t handle what’s going on or what we fear could happen in the future. Knowing you have the tools (along with social support) that can help you through whatever it is, is priceless.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Why bypassing the body doesn't work

There’s a joke that when we go to a practitioner’s office who practises talk therapy, our body is left at the door and only our head enters the office because that’s the only important ‘bit’. But we don’t have to go to talk therapy for us to leave our bodies behind, most of us have learned to vacate our bodies out of necessity for various reasons.

Our bodies are where we sense and feel pain, so it makes sense that we don’t want to inhabit them sometimes. But life won’t let us get away with this long term. Things always have a way of coming up and out sooner or later.

Most of us from the age of 35 onwards start to accumulate too much baggage because we haven’t been emptying our barrels often enough. It often takes a crisis to make us look at our lives and take stock of what isn’t working any longer.


This is why one the most important skills we can ever learn is to regulate our nervous system. That is, to release and discharge tension and stress from our bodies, our minds will usually follow suit if we do this. If we are not in our bodies, we can't release the tension they hold. That is why being embodied is so important, it is one of the most practical things we can do to improve our mental and physical health.

There are many ways we can release stress and we don’t have to go at it with a sledgehammer 24/7, find the way that feels right for you, at any given moment in time. Take it easy, rest as often as you can, have fun and stop trying to fix yourself all the time.

Excerpted from the book, Forward Facing Trauma Therapy: Healing the Moral Wound by Eric Gentry:

Soft palate relaxation
Here, your goal is to locate and then relax the muscles of your soft palate.
1. Sit down comfortably and shift your focus to the muscles along the roof of your mouth.
2. Release all the tension in this area.
3. Now expand your focus to include the muscles in your face and  jaw.
4. Release the tension in these muscles too.
5. Next, with all of these muscles relaxed, silently say the letter “R” to yourself and try to gently maintain the subtle arch this creates in the roof of your mouth for five seconds.
6. Repeat this exercise five times.
7. Notice the relaxation in your body.