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.

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