“Trauma is the frightening experience of the destruction of all self-nurturing functioning resources,” writes prominent psychiatrist Joerg Bose, M.D., in the Review of Interpersonal Psychoanalysis. “Trauma . . . shatters the self.” It also fractures our connection to our bodies, making them agents of retraumatization rather than healing.
A traumatic event, or series of events, locks itself into the body as a somatic pattern. A child who is hit or slapped around the head or upper body might adopt a raised shoulder, a sort of boxer’s stance, to ward off blows. (Even the threat of such abuse, such as a hand raised in anger, can have this effect.) After a while the shoulder remains in this position quite independent of the abuse. The central nervous system becomes permanently geared for blows.
The defensive posture is both an outward manifestation of the inner anxiety and a constant reminder to the brain that danger is near. The anxiety and depression are constantly invoked, as if the trauma is, as we call it, an “ongoing energy event” that resurfaces at any hint of the original circumstances.
Conscious recollection can be hampered by an overwhelming emotional response. This sometimes happens when a child is severely abused at an early age by an idealized older person in the family. Faced with the possibility of admitting that the adult has done something wrong, the child’s brain simply erases the memory from consciousness. But the somatic footprint remains.
The imprint of trauma in the body not only maintains the sense of vulnerability and victimhood within the person but communicates this to others as well.
Research shows that criminals can spot a likely target in seven seconds through their submissive, downward-gazing posture and awkward, uncoordinated movement. In the same way, someone programmed to criticize and control will seek out people whose slumped posture suggests that they will accept this kind of behavior.
The victim, in turn, may be drawn to the controller, whose bullying demeanor reminds her at some level of the childhood abuser. The relationship itself will then constantly retrigger the trauma and reinforce the depression.
A Note on Releasing Trauma
It’s not uncommon for emotions to come up when your body is relaxed and letting go of defensive patterns. This may occur, for example, during bodywork sessions.
Some people may find themselves feeling angry or even crying for no apparent reason. They usually feel much better after releasing these pent-up emotions, and it’s important to have such an outlet. Sometimes people even shake or tremble and may experience involuntary movements. This simply indicates that muscles are letting go of tension and is also a good thing.
It’s very important to have someone you can be with or talk to when these feelings come up. A good friend may be enough, but if you continue to feel troubled, you may want to work with a mental health professional who is highly skilled in psychotherapy. A professional who is well-trained in both emotional and body-oriented therapy can be particularly helpful in enabling you to feel safe during these releases and will integrate them into your therapeutic process.
Finding such a practitioner isn’t easy. (You might want to search for a Fortinberry Murray practitioner.) The most important thing, however, is to be with someone you trust and feel really understands you.
If you are thinking of seeing a physical therapist, bodyworker, or somatic teacher, ask whether she is comfortable with clients expressing emotions. You might also request that you be told what she plans to do and asks permission before you are touched. If the individual isn’t a trained psychotherapist, it’s important that she acknowledges her limitations and doesn’t try to impose her ideas onto your experience. Remember that no one ever touches just your body—they touch you. And keep in mind that your brain will inevitably experience any practitioner as an authority figure.
We recommend that you avoid any method that emphasizes cathartic release of trauma or uncovering buried memories. If these things occur spontaneously in a safe environment, that’s fine.
(extracted from) Creating Optimism: A Proven, 7-Step Program for Overcoming Depression, Based on the popular Uplift program, written by Bob Murray Ph. D., and Alicia Fortinberry, published by Mcgraw-Hill