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BodyMind: Trauma In? Trauma Out!

A column exploring the therapeutic applications of the BodyMind

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Trauma In? Trauma Out!

Experiencing stubborn health or life challenges? Underlying trauma may be the problem. While recent decades have witnessed quantum advances in the study of trauma, its consequences and treatment, most people still view car wrecks, falls, assaults, divorce, abuse, emotional upsets, and more simplistically: one-and-done events happening to somebody else.

On one level, trauma is merely a physical, emotional or spiritual overload that we are unable to process in the moment, owing to factors such as fatigue, danger, vulnerability, lack of external support or internal resources. In this sense, trauma is situational. Nine times out of 10, a particular impact or insult may not reach the trauma threshold. But when it does, our brain instantly dumps the overload into our tissues without our awareness.

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While that hard-wired reflex helps us survive the crisis, it also perpetuates it. Now parked in our tissue, the energy of the overload actively broadcasts to our entire being that we are in danger. In other words, until found and evicted, this buried content mires us in a dysfunctional and traumatic past. It also accounts for many of our eccentricities and neuroses.

In the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event at any age, if there is nobody to confide in and comfort us, this is at least as traumatic as the actual event, if not more so. However, humans are most vulnerable to trauma in the first 27 months post-conception, when our survival depends entirely on others. During this critical period, even a momentary service—or connection interruption with our mom or primary caregiver—like being left to cry ourselves to sleep, is life-threatening and can induce anxiety, insecurity or terror. Because the infant's nervous system is such a work in progress, these interruptions can lead to serious developmental delays such as ADD/ADHD and other cognitive and behavioral challenges.

A seemingly innocent moment of neglect may also lead to addictions, allergies, autoimmune challenges, eating disorders, other physical and mental illnesses, even crime. These situations aren't necessarily the result of bad parenting, neglect or abuse. Mom, dad, or whomever may be experiencing physical, financial or emotional problems like postpartum depression, or might just have conflicting responsibilities.

In the 1980s, we learned that many of those who experienced PTSD during military service had already been traumatized in childhood, leaving them less resilient than their comrades. After stalling for decades, the American psychiatric community has finally recognized the existence and seriousness of childhood PTSD. Indeed, the psychiatric community has also recognized 10 Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that increase susceptibility to truancy, dropping out, crime, drug addiction and serious health challenges. Often related to socioeconomic status, these adverse experiences include things such as witnessing physical violence or having family members incarcerated, or addicted to drugs and alcohol.

There is hope: Trauma and its severest consequences are treatable, as shown in the film, "The Wisdom of Trauma" (viewable online with a small donation). Dr. Gabor Matés books "Scattered Minds" and "In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts" present the science linking early life trauma to ADD/ADHD and addictions. Those experiencing health challenges might benefit from working with someone trained to find and evict trauma that has been parked in the body.

Our next column explores the connection between trauma, allergies and autoimmune complaints.

-Bend resident Mike Macy, LMT, is an avid skate skier, fat-tire biker and birder. His book "BodyWise" conveys insights gained in 35 years of clinical practice. Reach him at mefmacy@gmail.com.

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