Too Much, Too Fast, Too Soon!

So what exactly is a "trauma"?

Trauma can be defined as :
An event experienced as life-threatening,
which overwhelms our capacity to deal with it.

Note that this definition shows that trauma is
in the eye of the beholder
; an event that one
person experiences as traumatic may not be
experienced the same way by someone else.

When we encounter a life-threatening situation,
we are biologically made up so that our
Fight-or-Flight emergency response system comes on line.
 This is our Autonomic Nervous System.

It is a very basic and early part of our nervous system,
which we share with the snakes and fishes;
 it is part of what is often called the Reptilian Brain.
(In the Nine Centers view, it is the Belly Center.)
The ANS controls huge energies in our
body, mind and feelings; not surprising, as it is the
last-ditch survival system. The ANS (this is important)
 has an activation system ("sympathetic")
and a calming system (parasympathetic").

Immense energies arise in response to the threat;
we become very strong, highly focused, immune to pain,
ready to fight for our lives or run for our lives.

If we succeed, we are intensely exhilarated!
We may shake or cry, leap for joy, and
celebrate our ability to surmount the ultimate threat!

BUT...what happens if we cannot deal with the threat,
if we are completely overwhelmed because the situation
is just too much for us to deal with?

If we don't survive of course there is no problem. No problem, no trauma, no-one to deal with it.

But if we somehow survive anyway...what happens to all that intense biological energy that we mobilized? We were unable to use it to fight back or escape. And we are not designed to sustain that level of energy for long.

Fortunately, we have a natural,
built-in safety device.
Remember the calming system?
 In order to balance the extreme
arousal (sympathetic), the calming
system (parasympathetic) also goes
into overdrive. This protects
us from burning out fuses, and puts
 us into a Freeze state.
We go numb, motionless; we may
collapse, or even lose consciousness.
This also insulates us from the pain
and distress of succumbing to the threat.

However, this is only a short-term solution. It is like having your foot on the gas and the brake at the same time! The freeze state may look as if not much is happening, but it is actually very highly charged and takes a huge amount of energy.

So here is the crucial step.
Our system has a built-in way of getting rid
of this excess energy, thus returning
 the nervous system to a balanced state.
This spontaneous discharge process might involve
shaking, trembling, crying, deep breathing,
or subtle sensations of warmth, tingling and flow.

Animals in the wild go through this naturally,
and so do not accumulate "trauma energy".

However... humans, with their big brains, get afraid of this process
and stop the discharge from happening!

This leaves us with a huge charge in
 our autonomic nervous system, on both
sides (calming and activating). In such a
state, the ANS cannot function properly;
it may get stuck "on", or stuck "off", or
fluctuate wildly. This gives rise to a wide
variety of symptoms, collectively known
as "Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome".

The method of Somatic Experiencing
® is
specifically designed to enable people to go
through this discharge process and un-do the trauma.

What can cause trauma?

As mentioned above, trauma is in the eye of the beholder, so there can be no exhaustive list. However, here are some of the most common causes:
  • physical trauma, such as car accident, falls, physical abuse, surgery, or severe illness
  • environmental trauma (exposure to natural disasters or environmental toxins)
  • emotional trauma, such as abusive relationships
  • sexual trauma (adult or child)
  • developmental trauma (dysfunctional family patterns, most early trauma)
  • war trauma
  • witnessing trauma to others
  • birth and intra-uterine trauma
Each category has its own characteristics, but all share the same basic dynamics.

For more information: Head, Heart, Belly, Center,
Nine Centers, Centerline, Ground, Sky, Trauma