When you are in the grip of PTSD, it can be tough to believe you will ever again experience a day without fear, where your mind responds normally to outside stimuli and where you experience the joy of being in your body. You don’t have to suffer forever because something happened that caused your system to overload. It is possible to heal the nervous system and enjoy life after trauma.
Here the term trauma refers to psychology, the brain, and the nervous system, not a physical wound. People often avoid facing trauma because it is so painful. We have already lived through the traumatic event or period but still feel the negative effects in our life. Respected trauma therapist Dr. Peter Levine refers to trauma as a dysregulation of the nervous system.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) affect the development of our brain and nervous system (Developmental Trauma). Childhood trauma has a lasting impact, negatively affecting all areas of our lives, including physical and mental health, finances, violence and addiction.
Fight/Flight/Freeze Survival System refers to automatic processes generated in our primitive brain to ensure our physical survival. It activates when we perceive danger. People with trauma in their background are often stuck on yellow or red alert causing a multitude of problems.
Shock or Crisis Trauma refers to a terrifying event where a person experiences or witnesses a threat to their life or that of someone close to them. This can happen to a person at any age. First Responders and people in the military experience this type of trauma in their work.
Chronic trauma refers to and includes neglect and abuse that occurs repeatedly over a long period of time. People experiencing chronic trauma may also have incidents of crisis or shock trauma where they feel their life is at risk.
Developmental or Childhood Trauma occurs when a child experiences or witnesses multiple exposures to abuse, abandonment or betrayal, and does not experience safe, consistent caretaking. The developing brain and nervous system are affected negatively. In addition, positive development fails to happen as it would if the child was safe and cared for. The effects of Developmental Trauma continue into adult life. People with Developmental Trauma who are highly affected in adult life may be diagnosed with Complex PTSD.
PTSD or PTS: Post Traumatic Stress (Disorder) develops in some people after a shocking, scary or dangerous event. This includes people in war and domestic situations. Symptoms include hyper- vigilance, flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety. A background in childhood of Developmental Trauma can set the stage for acute PTSD later in life.
Post Traumatic Growth and Resilience Most people recover from shock or crisis trauma within several months and some even experience Post Traumatic Growth and increased resilience. Dr. Martin Seligman is a pioneer in the emerging field of positive psychology that researches effective ways to increase our resilience and mental strength before and after traumatic events.
A good resource: The Body Keeps The Score, Dr Bessel van der Kolk
I experienced PTSD after being physically assaulted in 2005. I was very grateful at the time to have a dozen years of experience practicing and teaching yoga and meditation. I knew how to breathe to calm myself. I had practices to access the strength I needed to testify in court. I knew a lot about the mind’s processes and was able to research and understand how the primitive brain hijacks the conscious mind.
When my mind was too traumatized to meditate and I had no control over flashbacks, I discovered short, guided relaxations helped. Smooth, even diaphragmatic breath stabilizes the mind and emotions. The whiplash in my neck benefitted from slow, mindful yoga stretches and massage therapy. I learned to respect the temporary limitations imposed by fear and to avoid re-traumatizing my system. The high startle response common in PTSD resides in a deeper part of the brain than the conscious mind. Therapies that work with the conscious mind can be complemented with practices that work directly with the deeper layers of the mind. This is where meditation and yoga nidra shine.
Safety IS the treatment. When we create the right conditions, the body and mind heal itself.
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