Trauma, Explained

“Probably the most important challenge in recovering from trauma is learning to regulate oneself.” 


Quote source: Bessel van der Kolk, author of The Body Keeps the Score, Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014).

Trauma is an event, traumatic stress is a response.

Trauma is unavoidable, but not unmanageable. 

That's according to Bessel van der Kolk, MD, professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine and director of the National Complex Trauma Treatment Network.

Van der Kolk brought us the idea of 'the body keeping the score' or trauma living as a response in your brain, mind, and body in his landmark book The Body Keeps the Score, Brain Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014). 


For van der Kolk, trauma exists in the everyday living fabric of society, meaning it is unavoidable at large, but it isn’t unmanageable.


Traumatic responses like terror can feel like being ‘scared stiff’ and ‘frozen in fear’ or collapsing and going numb (van der Kolk, 2014, pp. 99).


These responses are meant to keep you safe, but if they're being activated too often, preventing you from functioning and enjoying life, then fear is holding you hostage. 


“People’s lives will be held hostage to fear until that visceral experience changes,” (ibid).

The brain on chronic trauma

If your body and brain and spirit signal something is potentially dangerous, and especially if it's life-threatening (or reminds you of something life-threatening), you may experience an outer body phenomena psychotherapists are calling “dissociating.”  

After a person starts to dissociate habitually or by unconscious default to protect themselves, it can become a default disposition to future stressful events.

“Trauma interferes with the brain circuits that involve focusing, flexibility, and being able to stay in emotional control,” van der Kolk writes in a Q&A on his website.


“A constant sense of danger and helplessness promotes the continuous secretion of stress hormones, which wreaks havoc with the immune system and the functioning of the body’s organs,” he adds.

When we dissociate, it’s not without consequence. 

Traumatic stress scrambles energy. When your energy is scrambled, so too is your ability to lead from spaces of confidence, humility, and grace. When we dissociate, it's like living in autopilot. Since we are not really present in our bodies, it's arguable in this state it's impossible to be present in the now...


Instead of experiencing the world embodied, you come at the world with your trauma response front and center, ready to employ in defense at any time.


You may react rather than respond.


Over time, you may react so often that you never really respond. This leads to poor connection and communication with others. It scrambles the energy inside us as we dissociate, splitting ourselves in mirrors and the mind’s eye. We cast shadows, looking down upon our lives, judging from above, and we become the inner critics of our inner critics of our inner critics.


Lasting healing can only happen when people with trauma are able to inhabit their bodies, and to tolerate feeling what they feel, and knowing what they know, van der Kolk argues.


“We can activate this innate capacity by utilizing breath, touch, movement, and rhythmical engagement with one’s fellow human beings, such as yoga, tai chi, and dancing, methods that are not widely utilized in medical settings or in school systems,” says van der Kolk.


the work

Come home to yourself.

There are many ways to do trauma-informed work, shadow work, relationship work, and trauma-focused "work." 


Reiki work is another natural way you can help you come home to yourself and find relief. It uses breath, energy movement, and, if the client is comfortable, touch to help facilitate energy movement in and outside the body. 

Reiki is available to help you shift the energy in your body that may be contributing to symptoms of emotional, physical, and spiritual pain. It is meant as a complementary type of healing modality. 

Reiki sessions last between 25-60 minutes. Learn more about reiki here.