The body is central to understanding what trauma is and how we should deal with it. In this blog I discuss how to work with the body to help to resolve the effects of early, childhood trauma. This is taken from a recent podcast interview I did called Living With Feeling – Childhood Trauma.
Let’s start by defining trauma. Trauma is anything that overwhelms our ability to cope.
Trauma is being stuck in fight or flight or freeze. It can show up in the body as a racing heart, a churning belly or tight muscles, or being stuck in a gesture of collapse, where you can’t do anything, everything feels overwhelming, your body feels numb, and your brain feels cloudy.
Being stuck in these kind of responses is really, really hard work for human beings.
What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?
An adverse experience in childhood could be:
• Abuse and harm: physical, emotional, psychological or sexual
• Parental loss
• Divorce of parents
• Being bullied
• Experiencing mental health difficulties
Many studies over the past couple of decades have clarified the impact of adverse childhood experiences on health and wellbeing in later life. In the podcast, Dr. Charley Baker shares:
“Children with multiple adverse childhood experiences are less likely to do well in school, and less likely to go onto secure employment that is safe and provides sufficiently for them. They are more likely to experience physical health problems, less likely to seek health for those physical health problems, and also more likely to experience mental health problems.”
ACEs are common. It is said that for every soldier in a war zone there are ten children who have been through adverse childhood experiences. In childhood, relational dynamics aren’t casual, they are absolutely life and death. How you are loved, whether you’re accepted by your peers or bullied, whether you fit into social groups or not impacts us profoundly.
Power dynamics are central to creating safety, and we are most vulnerable when we are children. As children, we absolutely need people to help us feel safe and tragically, sometimes we have no choice but to love people who abuse us.
ACEs can leave a challenging legacy of trauma within us. Since the body is integral to the experience of any trauma, it’s a powerful place to start when it comes to treating the effects of childhood trauma and ACEs.
Trauma and Tension Releasing Exercises (TRE) are an amazing tool for helping the body let go of deep, chronic patterns, accumulated life stress and trauma in the body that can result from early traumatic experiences.
The goal of the TRE exercises is to start a self-directed tremoring process. Once you have learnt the exercises, and can feel and allow the tremors, you just let the body do its own healing and clearing out of overwhelming experiences. It really can be that easy.
Four things that happen when create natural, therapeutic tremors in the body:
One: You experience joy
The neurological stimulus of shaking awakens feeling of pure joy. It creates a big burst of good news going through your nervous system.
Two: You learn how to feel
The TRE exercises are also a training in mind-body interaction. Through setting up the natural tremoring process, you’re learning how to feel, and specifically finding sensations that show you what ease feels like.
Three: You work physiologically to heal the effects of trauma
The paradigm of TRE helps us understand trauma – you’re not mad, bad or broken. Your system is in patterns of holding and tension that were set up by overwhelming experiences, and you can work with your physiology to resolve them. When we learn to regulate ourselves physiologically, the psychology will fade into the background.
Four: You see that don’t need to talk about your trauma to be able to handle it
Most people assume that you need to talk about the traumatic things that have happened to you in order to heal them. This isn’t true and there’s an enormous freedom to working with the body, seeing that you don’t need to understand or remember, but instead you can learn how to regulate intense feelings in your body.
You don’t need to go back and be a detective and unpick your traumatic or adverse childhood experiences. Instead, TRE works to help you feel safe in the present moment, and help you connect to your body, because your body is the vehicle that expresses your overwhelm. It teaches you that you can find agency in your body, and that what happened to you in the past isn’t happening to you right now, even though it has a huge power over you.
At the end of the interview Emma clarifies how powerful the TRE work has been.
“I am convinced that the medical framing of trauma, with its emphasis on the body opens up valuable research into mind body interactions and new therapies. I found the Tension and Trauma Release Exercises that I did with Steve helped me and I have carried on doing them since our interview.”
I run TRE trainings online and in person. You can find out more about training in TRE with me here.
You can listen to the full podcast here: Living With Feeling – Childhood Trauma
TRE Intro Day *NEW* Dates
TRE Intro Online 15 Sep
TRE Advanced Training
Touch London: 14-15 Nov