Month: April 2014

What are your patterns?

“What fires together, wires together.”

In other words, brain cells that communicate frequently, form stronger connections. Can you now see where your bad habits may be coming from, and why they’re so difficult to break? They get wired into your brain! And the more you do them, the more ingrained they become.

Obviously, some of the patterns we form are good ones. Everyone has good things they do for themselves and others on a regular basis. Here, I’ll invite you to take a few minutes and name several of your good habits. (If you need a few hints, here is my blog about self-care.)

Are you aware of your ingrained patterns that get in your way, hold you back? Welcome to the human condition. We are an odd species that evolved with layers of old, prehistoric brain underneath newer and more sophisticated parts–and the different parts don’t always get along!

Well, the good news is, we have some good things on our side.

First of all, there’s neuroplasticity. That means the brain and nervous system are “plastic”, mold-able, throughout the human lifespan.  Generally speaking, we can grow, change, and learn at any age.

One of the major ways to access neuroplasticity is through mindfulness. Mindfulness means doing with awareness, being fully present to the present moment. In Somatic Experiencing, we use a form of somatically based mindfulness called “dual awareness”.  That means, the therapist guides and supports you to observing what’s happening in your body/nervous system, while being stable and OK in the present moment.  Without being swallowed up by the old pattern.

A good SE therapist will help you really slow things down, really attune to what’s happening within. You’d be amazed how just slowing things down, in the presence of a calm and grounded other person, brings new awareness and insight. Along the way, the process also frees up the energy needed to make and sustain positive changes.

Slowing down, becoming mindful and starting to feel what’s happening underneath, is a process that sometimes requires therapeutic guidance, particularly if the person has a significant amount of trauma energy lurking under there.  People have accessed it through therapy, yoga, physical exercise, meditation, writing, and other ways. When done properly, this process tends to develop a lot more integration and wholeness within the person.  Many people have used it to shed many bad habits, and ended up knowing themselves better!

Shock vs. developmental trauma

Did you know that there are two main classifications of trauma?

They are different in some ways, similar in others. They can overlap or occur separately.

Shock trauma comes from a sudden, singular event, such as a car accident or assault, physical injury, the unexpected death of a loved one, or a natural disaster.  A person’s experience of war may be filled with multiple instances of shock trauma.  Some seemingly routine, innocuous medical procedures can leave the nervous system in a post-traumatic state, even despite the best efforts of the medical staff.

This category of trauma is so named because it usually involves the person experiencing some degree of shock. Medical shock is often associated with physical injury or impact, and it may pose an immediate threat to life. Medical shock requires the immediate attention of a qualified medical practitioner.  It can co-occur with emotional shock, which involves some degree of dissociation and emotional/physical numbness. Emotional shock may occur without medical shock; and it can go unnoticed for a long time. It must be addressed first before deeper trauma healing work can proceed.

Developmental trauma occurs when an infant or child does not receive the nurturing or support s/he needs for his or her nervous system to fully develop.  This is important: A child’s nervous system knows how to “wind up” into distress, but it does not know how to settle or calm itself.  A child’s nervous system is dependent on the caregiver to regulate it.  Over time, nurturing interactions with a calm and loving caregiver, teaches the nervous system how to calm itself and adapt to changing external circumstances.

In my experience, I have found that people don’t always know that they have developmental trauma, or that their nervous systems  are still in need of support.  Developmental trauma often underlies otherwise unexplained cases of depression, anxiety, rigidity, relationship problems, and failure to recover from a seemingly small life event.

Please note that developmental trauma can result from bad parenting, but this is not always the case. Many unavoidable circumstances can cause stress on the child, or stress on the family that they can’t help but pass on to the child. Examples include family illness, a death in the family, poverty, living with war, and some instances of parental grief, anxiety or depression.

These are two distinct types of trauma. It is important for the therapist to understand the differences in how they appear, as well as how to treat them.

Child abuse is an example of shock and developmental trauma occurring together. So is the untimely death of a parent.

The good news is, just like other animals, humans have a remarkable ability to grow, improve and recover, even in adulthood and old age.  We are designed to overcome adversity, and you might be amazed at how much recovery is possible with the proper support. The principle of neuroplasticity refers to the brain and nervous system’s ability to change rather than staying static.  I have seen people in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s engage in SE and experience substantial improvements.

So, don’t give up! You can educate yourself about trauma and how to help body, mind and spirit release it.

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