What is trauma?
Whether we realize it or not, all of us experience in our lives the effects of small and big traumatic events. Car accidents, sexual abuse, aggressions, earthquakes and natural disasters, surgical operations, but also mobbing, emotional shock, the death of a loved one… Even events of small intensity but repeated in time leave marks in our bodies, minds and souls – even after many years. Traumatic events can start a series of physiological mechanisms that overwhelm our body and take over our mind, leaving us powerless and unable to live our lives as we’d like to.
When we are confronted with danger, our organism mobilizes all energies at our disposal in order to react to the situation and survive, but often we don’t even realize it. We may come back to presence in our body hours, months, years after – or never. That’s what is called dissociation. Many people just vegetate in a sort of absence. And in some ways, we all live with a certain degree of unawareness of our body or of parts of it. We all have traumas, and for the biggest part we’re not even aware of it.
One can be traumatized even by a surgical operation with full anestesia – the mind is asleep, but the body goes through the experience as if somebody was invading its vital space. Many traumas are not even caused by big events. They may originate from events that others consider unimportant or futile, but have an overwhelming, freezing effect on us, making us feel detached from our body, people, the world, and ourselves.
Trauma is the effect in the body, soul and mind of past traumatic events.
Trauma is something our nervous system experienced as too strong,
too sudden, too much.
The good news is that there is a way out of it!
Wild animals don’t get traumatized
Not many people know that wild animals don’t get traumatized. Scientific studies, and the time-proven knowledge of tribal peoples all over the world, tell us that if a deer grazing in the forest is attacked by a pack of wolves and survives the experience, the day after it will go back to live its normal life.
On the other hand, when we as humans go through a traumatic event such as a physical aggression or a car accident, for months or years afterwards we’re often unable to drive a car or pass by the spot where we were attacked. Humans (and the domesticated animals living with us like dogs, cats, and horses) are the only ones who get traumatized.
By observing the behaviour of wild animals, experts have emphasized the role of the reptile brain, the most ancient part of our nervous system according to neurophysiological experts like Dr. Stephen Porges, author of the so-called Polyvagal theory. The reptile brain is responsible for thousands of instinctual functions aimed at the survival or the organism, like physical protection, digestion, sexual activity, temperature regulation, and so on. In situations of real or perceived danger, our reptile brain immediately activates the fight / flight response, ie the reactions that can allow us to flee from the scene or to fight danger. That has the sole purpose of allowing our body to survive. If none of these two options is available, then a third defense response sets in: freezing.
Once danger is over, wild animals’ reptile brains automatically discharge frozen energy activated in their bodies during the survival response through trembling, sweating, heat, and in other ways. On the other hand, we as human beings are identified with a part of the brain animals don’t have, the neocortex (the part that allows us to think, compare, speak, and do many more things). The neocortex goes into conflict with our reptile brain, therefore blocking the discharge mechanism – and that’s what leaves us traumatized.
In other words, the energy that was put into motion by the survival mechanism gets stuck in the body, and can stay there for the rest of our life, as in many cases does.
That’s why, for instance:
– a person involved in a car accident will often experience problems driving a car;
– a victim of sexual abuse may go through a hard time trying to build a satisfactory sexual relationship (even though she’s not aware of having been abused in the past);
– trauma can be at the base of many eating disorders (the reptile brain is in charge both of survival and of eating and digestion);
– trauma may concur to cause dependence problems such as addictions (alcohol, drugs, food, sex, work, etc.).
Somatic Experiencing® (SE) is a body-based trauma resolution method developed by American physician Dr. Peter Levine, one of the world’s leading experts in the field.
By working in private, individual sessions through so-called felt sense and deep body awareness, the SE facilitator works to enable the client discharge survival energy that is stuck in the body after one or more traumatic events.
In this way, discharged energy becomes again available in the client’s life, making him stronger and turning negative and humiliating events into a great opportunity for emotional and spiritual growth.
This can also happens by exploring victim/perpetrator and prey/predator dynamics contained in our body as deep, hidden memory. By this process, personal boundaries can also be reestablished, reclaiming one’s abilities and sense of power and identity.
Another major advantage of SE’s approach resides in the fact that it is a non-cathartic technique. This means that with SE it’s not necessary to relive again the traumatic event(s) that occurred in the past, as is often the case with other approaches – thereby eliminating the danger of retraumatization posed by such methods. In SE, we let the body’s profound, natural wisdom do the job, letting us be guided by it towards resolution and healing.
By following this process, we can increase the autonomous nervous system’s resilience, meaning its strength and ability to act (and not blindly react) to dangerous and stressful circumstances. We will then be able to stay aware of ourselves and our bodies when danger appears or pressure builds up in our daily life. In extreme situations, we’ll be able to keep calm and act at our best capacity to preserve our survival – and other people’s lives! That’s why this knowledge should be taught to people who work everyday in dangerous situations, like physicians, nurses, fire-department officers, policemen, etc.
Beyond Somatic Experiencing®: shamanic traumawork
Our professional experience in over 12 years of work with thousands of people taught us there are aspects of trauma that are usually not taken into consideration – not even by methods like Somatic Experiencing®. The integration of SE with the shamanic knowledge we learned on the field through direct experience with tribal cultures and the people who came to us for help allows us to offer our clients a much wider range of possibilities and resources. This means we are able to promote transgenerational trauma resolution (traumas that are passed from one generation to the next) and to work on traumatic memories belonging to past lives (something that is not taken into consideration in the SE method).
Another advancement we achieved in our work is that, in many cases, we are now able to work towards trauma resolution not only in individual sessions, but also in Ritual Constellations® group sessions.
From a shamanic point of view, dissociation equals to Soul loss – meaning by this that a part of our vital energy is literally out of our body. In the shamanic way of conceiving the world, every little part of our body and each organ has its own Spirit. The work on trauma allows us to recognize that many times it’s only a part of the body that is blocked or dissociated, for instance an arm that was broken in the past. In such cases, we help to reestablish the energetic presence of the arm, reintegrating it with the rest of the body. Our clients are then able to enjoy a new, greater sense of wholeness, health and joy – something they can wonderfully experience in their own body!
The shamanic work on trauma resolution is often integrated in Ritual Constellations® seminars and workshops. It can be done in private or group sessions, and can be of great help in removing layers of dark thoughts and frozen or stuck energies caused by traumatic events. This will help the Soul get rid of everything that doesn’t belog to it, literally coming back to life.
In our trainings with people who have an interest in learning shamanic knowledge and techniques, we put a lot of emphasis on the process of shamanic trauma resolution as a preparation to shamanic experience and efficiency. The shamanic way of trauma resolution enables people to reclaim parts (and sometimes literally big chunks!) of their own energy that were stuck or frozen somewhere in their inner worlds – and this of course will help improve physical and sublte sense perception and sensitivity.