The definition of trauma is an experience that was too much for your system to process.
Experiences that overwhelm the body and nervous system to the point where you can’t process the feelings in that moment end up getting stored in the body and the unconscious. This can happen because of being too young, shocked, or somehow unwillingly taken over by force (etc). The body tucks away whatever parts of the traumatic energy it needs to until you are in a place of strength and support enough to feel it, and let it move through you. This leaves excess emotional energy to become compacted, often into stagnancy or chronic contraction, to keep it safe. This storage can become volatile in moments when the trauma is triggered and you unconsciously connect with the residual impact and relate it to the present moment without your conscious awareness.
Experiences can be categorized as hard traumas or soft traumas. Hard traumas are more easily identifiable like: car accident, injury, serious harm from the intent to be harmed by another, experiences in war or a natural disaster. Soft traumas are less easily identified. They can come from emotional or physical abuse often without conscious awareness from the abuser or the “victim” that this is happening. This can come in the form of domestic or social violence and often includes some form of gaslighting and abuse of power. It can be difficult to identify soft traumas when the actions are not obvious.
Chronic stress can also have a similar impact as trauma on the body. The body registers these patterns similarly and forms muscular tension patterns in response.
When experiences are so overwhelming and we tuck them away in order to live through it, we often respond by either numbing out or living in a constant state of hypervigilance. Feelings like rage, grief, despair, hopelessness etc either become hard to access or overly volatile.
When we experience trauma, adrenaline rushes through the body and the memory is imprinted into the amygdala where we hold onto the emotional significance of the event. The amygdala stores the visual images of trauma as sensory fragments. It is not often stored like a story, but more by how our senses were experiencing the trauma at the time it was occurring. The memories are stored through fragments of visual images, smells, sounds, tastes, or touch. The brain can then become easily triggered by sensory input. The stored sensory fragments are misinterpreted and the brain loses its ability to discriminate between what is threatening and what is normal.
One part of your DNA is designed to activate the immune system to help you counter a challenge to the body that you’ve already encountered before – it is on guard ready to protect you from that which it already recognizes. Another part of DNA is meant to help you encounter a threat you haven’t had before.
When you experience trauma – the balance between these two shifts to the point where you are living in a state of guarding yourself against something you think you’ve experienced already (even if you haven’t) and then the body starts fighting itself.
The rational part of our brain (prefrontal cortex), where consciousness lives, is where processing and reasoning occur and where we make meaning of language. When a trauma occurs, we often enter into a fight, flight, or freeze state, which can result in the prefrontal cortex shutting down. The body goes into a survival mode and the brain becomes somewhat disorganized and overwhelmed and shuts down the higher reasoning and language structures of the brain.
We are designed to endure and evolve from a certain amount of physically traumatic activity. We have a natural process of releasing trauma in the body but it doesn’t always complete itself. If the body does not effectively heal from the trauma after it happens at some point we have to release the event/s through a retracing process in order to move forward.
Retracing: a possible Healing Crisis Reaction
As one goes through life, people experience varying levels of trauma. Most people do not handle all traumas, infections, injuries and other insults to the body and brain immediately after impact.
When one is traumatized by a toxin, an infection, injury, or a mental or emotional situation, ideally one should move through a series of steps – like a wave motion – in order to fully resolve, regenerate, and restore the body and brain. But most people get stopped at some point in the process of resolving their traumas. This leaves a trace or a scar (physical or emotional) in the body or brain which can create the need for a retracing to occur long after the initial impact.
Retracing happens when a person is ready to complete all the necessary steps in healing trauma. It is a type of healing that restores the anatomy and physiology of a part of the body. When this occurs, in order to complete the healing process, one must go back into the situation energetically and process the entire situation correctly.
An example for context…
I used to think there was something wrong with me in the moments I got triggered. Like I had some ‘bad’ personality trait issue or that I was inherently not a great person. I didn’t realize my triggers were coming from unresolved pain stored in my brain and my body. And that they were actually giving me an opportunity to heal the root cause of the trigger (the inciting trauma) by reminding me that the pain was still there.
We can be intentional about working with our triggers through healing modalities that support us in retracing (going back to) the density that we’re still holding onto in our body, mind, energy field and soul. The easiest way I have found to release triggers I didn’t understand was to come home to my body and develop a relationship with my nervous system. Sometimes in this process we’ll know exactly what it is we’re working through and the memory of the initiating event and sometimes we won’t. These experiences can be as tangible as they can be abstract.
I personally have turned to bodywork, energy healing and breathwork to support myself in uprooting old patterns and blocked pathways in myself to help bring unconscious material forward to be released. These methods have helped me to get out of my mind, where I often went to escape, and allowed another form of wisdom to come forward to help me heal.
We are each unique and will respond to healing methods differently. What works for one may not work for another. The goal is to find what works best for you by trying out modalities and seeing what is a good fit.
Other forms of trauma healing that may be of support to check out:
EMDR – Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
EFT – Emotional Freedom Techniques
TRE – Tension and Trauma Release Exercises
*Any practices that improve neuroplasticity in the brain
A note on TITRATION and TRANSMUTATION
To transmute trauma we have to work with tritaing the energy over time. Transmutation implies in this context not just changing form, but changing the very nature of the energy.
To titrate is to take a little bit of energy at a time, however much your being can truly handle in the moment, and transform denser energy into higher states of vibration (ie: move the blocked/stuck/stagnant energy and let it alchemize into a more balanced state). When we transmute energy that’s ready to change states, we transform our relationship to our past and our body bringing us more and more into the present moment with coherence.
For example, we are intending not just to change the form of grief from stagnant (numb) to flowing (weeping), but to actually allow the energy of grief itself to be contacted a little bit at a time and while the tears may come as part of the process of changing the energy, we’re actually on a bigger journey to allow the initial energetic state of the grief to become something entirely different.
The magic of titration and transmutation is that what you might think of as residual traumatic impact (a stored up bunch of difficult feelings or memories or physical pain) can be worked with as the medicine! In this process what we might perceive as ‘poison’ becomes the base metal that we turn into gold (when looking at the process from an alchemical perspective).
You’ll find your sovereignty in this truth……what is bundled up in all the ‘difficult’ is primarily the energy of love, grace, and your own resiliency. When you make contact with the reality of the energetics (all those difficult feeling states, chronic etcs), you will find that they are very different from what you’ve long thought or felt them to be.
Books to check out
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, by Peter A. Levine and Ann Frederick
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, by Bessel van der Kolk M.D.
A great article on understanding the impact of trauma: