Our bodies cry out in two ways - either through emotion or illness. When we understand our body's pain we articulate it. When we can't understand it, we are overwhelmed by emotional and/or physical sensations. And we feel powerless. While we need to understand what is happening to us, we may not always find the answers. But we can make peace with our emotions, just as we learn to make peace with other unanswerable events in our life - and in fact, with life itself.
I deal with Trauma in my work. I work extensively with adults who have been sexually, emotionally or physically abused as children. I see the effects of trauma, years, even decades, after it occurred. While just about everyone experiences traumatic events; it is not the occurrence of trauma but how an individual deals with a traumatic event(s) that determines the impact it will have on his or her life. When trauma occurs at a very early age, it is just as important, maybe even more important, how the adults caring for the child deal with it. If trauma isn't swiftly and compassionately dealt with, it lodges in our system like a cancer. And it can cause symptoms over the years that are chronic and troubling.
Many of my clients who were abused as children, now suffer from chronic pain, chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal disturbances, eating disorders, migraine headaches, Fibromyalgia, Lupus, and other autoimmune diseases. Others, who aren't physically ill, complain of excessive anxiety, uncontrollable anger, continuous self destructive, self-hurting behavior, obsessive-compulsive behavior or "numbing out" (disassociation). This last symptom is a very common reaction to extreme trauma. While they know with every fiber of their being that they have been hurt, many have vague or conflicting memories. Some have no memories whatsoever. Many experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which affects their body's ability to remember and express emotion in a healing manner. But they insist that their body knows the truth.
Every traumatic experience - whatever the age of the victim - triggers a chain of electrical chemical reactions beginning or shooting to the brain and then moving throughout the body. Long-term trauma overwhelms our nervous systems, which can then malfunction producing a chronic, underlying state of dysregulation or imbalance in the body. The result is either continuous over-reactive, hyperactive reactions (panic, anxiety or disassociation) or continuous unresponsive, freezing reactions. The brain cannot differentiate between real or imagined threats. Constant anxiety or hyervigilance wears down the immune system and physical illness can occur as well.
In the last decade, enormous advances have been made in the field of Neurobiology. While in the past, we believed that most brain development occurred in the first few years of life, we now know that our brains are changing throughout our life - and not just by means of internal biological development. Our brain is continuously affected by and continuously changing through the effect of outside environmental factors as well. We can actually see these changes on brain scans taken over a period of time. We call this ability of our brain to adapt and change, Neuroplasticity.
This is good news. Because while it tells us that we are continually vulnerable, it also tells us that we can continually change. We have the ability to heal ourselves emotionally AND physically - if the physical issues are solely the result of trauma. Overall, the most effective method of treatment has proven to be a combination of psychological therapy and psychotropic medication. Both alter receptors in the brain, which then re-regulate our emotional and physiological states. As we become more aware of how our mind is working, accessing that which is unconsciously hurting us and making it conscious, we can begin to refine and alter our mental experiences.
By Roni Weisberg-Ross LMFT
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