WHAT IS EMOTIONAL TRAUMA?
… a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may lead to long-term neurosis. -Oxford Dictionary
We may often assume that trauma is or results from a physically violent event. However, I believe that trauma can be the result of emotional as well as physical distress. It does not need to be physically violent; it can develop in life over a prolonged period. It can also result from both a unique or repeated experience.
Often people believe their experience is not traumatic because they think that others have suffered something worse. In my experience such assumptions are untrue; trauma covers anything that will be traumatic for us. If something troubles us years later then it is very likely to be traumatic and create dysfunctions in our life and our body. It can be a wide range of events: divorce, car crash, rape, sexual abuse, death, problems before during and after birth, infertility, job dissatisfaction, unhappy life, marital issues, loss, miscarriage, abortion, illness, disability, racism, gender inequalities, forced immigration, feeling inadequate, feeling unworthy, suicide of someone close. Even witnessing an event in which we are not primarily involved can lead to trauma, for example, witnessing a car crash or someone attacking someone else. The list goes on.
Sometimes we might not even remember or realise the significance of the event which is causing symptoms of trauma.
When something traumatic happens, we create an excess of energy that gets blocked in the body instead of flowing. We may then experience this as fear, guilt, shame, anger, frustration… According to Peter A. Levine, animals in the wild, after living a traumatic event, shake themselves to dispel this excess of energy. Humans don’t do that anymore, today we are not taught how to do it. And in many cultures codes of conduct, created over generations, ensure that we are no longer able to express our feelings.
Over time, repressed emotions create particular dysfunctions that can be translated into illnesses or accidents. This is clearly not the only reason but it can be one of them. Nutrition is another aspect and considering both at once can be a very effective way of encouraging healing.
I work mostly with women who have been through sexual violence but I do not exclude any other issues that you will come up with. What I am about to explain can be applied to any form of trauma.
Very often sexual trauma, leads to recurrent questions like “why me? What did I do to deserve this? Is it my fault? Such thoughts become ‘stuck in our minds’. Simply assuring the sufferer “this is not your fault” is not enough. It can take years, even a lifetime just to understand that indeed it is not the person’s fault. It often happens that we have a rational understanding of this process, but our body does not share it. This disparity can create personal chaos.