Understand Trauma and The Use of Hypnosis to Overcome Symptoms of Trauma
Posted on 22nd November 2022 at 11:22
Read below my new article published in Brainz Magazine.
Let’s talk about trauma, how it can be defined, how it affects our life and who we are, and how hypnosis and hypnotherapy can help to manage symptoms of traumatic experiences.
Traumatic events can happen at any age and can cause long-lasting harm. Everyone has a different reaction to trauma. Although trauma can occur at any age, it has particularly debilitating long-term effects on children’s developing brains.
Some recent studies show that over 70% of people worldwide experienced lifetime traumas.
Trauma healing is a journey and can get complicated when we do not have the resources to help us cope with the symptoms resulting from the traumatic experience.
Trauma is also very personal and never compare yourself and your trauma to anyone else’s. Some of my clients tell me that they are quite fortunate as what happened to them was not as bad as what other kids experienced. We are allowed to feel what we feel and should not compare our pain to someone else’s and undermine our own pain and trauma.
Let’s see first how we can define trauma:
The word trauma comes from the Greek trauma (τραύμα) meaning wound.
Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing incident or series of events that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, affects their sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences. These incidents or events can be emotionally disturbing or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, and/or spiritual well-being.
Dr. Dan Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine, and the founding co-director of the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA, provides us with a simple yet powerful definition of trauma:
« Any experience that overwhelms our ability to cope ».
Experiences and events that may be traumatic include:
- Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse
- Childhood neglect
- Separation from a loved one
- Loss of a primary care giver or a close loved one
- Living in an environment affected by mental health or substance use disorders
- Dysfunctional family dynamics
- Accidents (for example road accidents, car crashes…)
- War and conflicts. And many more…
The different types of trauma:
It mainly results from a one-off distressing event, such as a car crash, physical or sexual assault, natural disaster, or the sudden death of a loved one. The event is extreme enough to threaten the individual’s emotional or physical security and their ability to cope.
The event creates a lasting impression on the individual’s mind. If not addressed through proper medical and therapeutic help, it can affect the way the person thinks, feels, and behaves. Acute trauma generally presents in the form of:
- High level of anxiety
- Trust issues
- Feeling misunderstood and disconnected from people around us
- Sleep related disorders
- Concentration issues
- Lack of self-care and even neglecting oneself
It can arise from multiple, long-term, and/or prolonged distressing, traumatic events over an extended period of time. It can develop in response to persistent bullying, neglect, abuse (emotional, physical, or sexual), domestic violence, and exposure to extreme situations, such as a war and conflicts.
The symptoms of chronic trauma can often appear years after the event occured. The symptoms are deeply distressing and may manifest as unpredictable emotional outbursts, anxiety, extreme anger, flashbacks, fatigue, body aches... Chronic trauma can also affect an individual’s relationships or career.
It can arise from experiencing repeated or multiple traumatic events from which there is no possibility of escape. The events are generally within the context of an interpersonal (between people) relationship. It may give the person a feeling of being trapped. Like other types of trauma, complex trauma can affect an individual’s sense of safety in the world and push them to be hypervigilant, and constantly monitoring of the environment and on the lookout for the possibility of threat. This can be truly exhausting and debilitating for individuals affected by complex trauma.
Secondary or vicarious trauma:
It arises from exposure to other people’s suffering and can affect those in professions such as physicians, health care professionals, first responders… In these types of situations, other people's trauma can become their own. Over time, such individuals are at risk of compassion fatigue, whereby they avoid investing emotionally in other people to protect themselves from experiencing distress.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs):
Adverse childhood experiences are difficult situations and potentially traumatic events that occur before a child reaches the age of 18 and before they have developed effective coping skills. Such experiences can interfere with a person’s health, opportunities, and stability throughout their lifetime. The loss of a primary care giver, neglect, emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, and divorce are among the most common types of Adverse Childhood Experiences.
The effects of trauma on the body:
Several parts of the brain play an important role in understanding how the brain and body function during a traumatic experience. They include the forebrain, or the prefrontal cortex, the limbic system, which is located in the centre of the brain, and the brain stem.
When a person experiences a traumatic event or experience, adrenaline rushes through the body and the memory is imprinted into the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system. The amygdala holds the emotional significance of the event, including the intensity and impulse of emotion.
The amygdala stores the visual images of trauma as sensory fragments, which means the trauma memory is not stored like a story, rather by how our five senses were experiencing the trauma at the time it happened.
The memories are stored through fragments of visual images, smells, sounds, tastes, or touch.
Consequently, after trauma, the brain can easily be triggered by sensory inputs, reading normal circumstances as dangerous. For example, a door being slammed is just door being slammed, but now it sounds like an explosion. The sensory fragments are misinterpreted, and the brain loses its ability to make the difference between what is threatening and what is normal.
The front part of our brain, known as the prefrontal cortex, is the thinking brain or the rational part where consciousness lives. When a trauma happens, people enter into a fight, flight, or freeze mode, which can result in the prefrontal cortex shutting down. The brain becomes overwhelmed because of the trauma, while the body goes into a survival mode and shuts down the reasoning structure of the brain. This causes the traumatic energy to be stored in the surrounding muscles, organs and connective tissue. Whenever we store trauma in our tissue, our brain disconnects from that part of the body to block the experience, preventing the recall of the traumatic memory. Any area of our body that our brain is disconnected from won’t be able stay healthy or heal itself. The predictable effect of stored trauma is degeneration and disease.
Ways to help with trauma healing and recovery:
Healing from traumatic experiences is an individual experience. What works for one person may not for another. Below are some options that may help you move towards healing, but the path is certainly not the same for everyone.
- Face it, don’t avoid it!
As tempting as it may be to try to ignore or completely erase a traumatic event, it’s crucial to learn to be ok with your memories of it and the things that trigger them without trying to avoid them. Never try to suppress what you feel. Facing your feelings head-on is important because you want to be able to take care of them in a way that helps you move forward.
- Seek professional help
The stress that comes with a traumatic event can be crippling. If you feel lost or overwhelmed by an experience and feel like there is no way out, please seek help and professional guidance from qualified behavioural and mental health providers and therapists as they will be a valuable resource to help you find your way and manage the symptoms of your traumatic experiences. Help from a qualified professional is necessary to make you recover from the distressing symptoms. Whatever be the type of trauma, if you find it difficult to recover from the distressing experiences, you must seek timely psychological help. A qualified and accredited professional can help you with a traumatic experience and help you toward leading a fulfilling life.
As trauma disrupts your body’s natural balance, exercise and movement can help repair your nervous system. Exercising for half an hour or more helps improve physical and emotional well-being. It does not have to be all at once either. So, get out and move.
Experts say it’s one of the most effective ways to handle the aftereffects of a traumatic event. Deep breathing, gentle stretching, and walking are all good choices. Never force things and be too hard on yourself. If you’re tired, it’s absolutely fine to take it easy and rest.
- Practice meditation and mindfulness
Even if you’re unfamiliar with meditation, going within and quieting the mind works very well to ease stress. Breathing exercises like deep breathing or focusing on your exhale can help ease your mind and relax you. Focus your attention on breathing or on parts of your body while you meditate. That can keep your brain from thinking about your stress. You can also create a mantra or affirmations that resonate with you and of course learning to live in the present moment by practicing mindfulness is also a great way to help you find your calm.
- Connect with others and join support groups
Making a connection is also a part of healing. Try to pursue doing “normal” activities, to divert your thoughts from traumatic memories and experiences. Socializing can also help you feel better. Support groups can also be a great resource. Indeed, talking over what you’re going through with others who have had the same experience, or are still going through it, can be helpful after a traumatic experience.
- Get back into your routine
Your everyday life can be interrupted by a traumatic event. A goal for those trying to get past the stress of trauma is to return to a day-to-day schedule as soon as possible. Getting your groove back can help you re-establish a sense of normality and regain a sense of control over your life.
What is hypnosis and how it can help with traumatic memories
As an award-winning, fully qualified, and accredited hypnotherapist, I can say that hypnosis is a very powerful modality to help you with the symptoms of traumatic experiences.
Hypnosis is a safe and natural state of relaxation with an increased level of awareness during which you are not asleep and are fully in control. You will experience a pleasant state of mind with increased attention and focus. The hypnotic state is similar to some moments in your life when you are daydreaming or fully absorbed in a specific activity like reading for example.
There is absolutely nothing to fear as therapeutic and clinical hypnosis is totally different from stage and entertainment hypnosis and as you remain in control, you will never be asked to do anything foolish or against your will. For the hypnotherapy session to be successful, the hypnotherapist must have your consent, collaboration and full commitment as the purpose is to help you reach a feeling of being more in charge and in control of your life.
While in a relaxed state of mind, new information can make its way into the subconscious which transforms old beliefs and thought patterns. Hypnosis delves into your subconscious mind to plant positive thoughts and suggestions, which can create meaningful and lasting changes in your thought process. Hypnosis replaces the old with the new. Changing your thinking will change your beliefs, fears, desires, habits, and anything that creates resistance when achieving new things.
It is not a passive process. You are actively participating by communicating your goals and what has previously held you back in the past. These goals are to be truly yours, no matter what you desire to obtain or achieve. If you are trying to satisfy social pressure, then hypnotherapy will not help you. The process is about you, your cooperation, your consent, and your participation.
More and more of us are beginning to understand how important the subconscious mind is in both helping and sabotaging our efforts to change and be happy. It is widely accepted that most of what we do and what we think is directed by the subconscious. In effect, we spend most of the day on autopilot, our past experiences shaping our responses, moment to moment.
When working with a qualified hypnotherapist, you will learn to reframe your thoughts and feelings around the traumatic experiences you went through.
As a hypnotherapist I believe I work in a profession which is fantastically placed to help people align with what they really desire in life, appreciate themselves and see their true potential.
The memories of the traumatic events and experiences we went through can be extremely painful to deal with and can be really debilitating. Our brain tends to work as a coping mechanism and store these traumatic moments deep within our subconscious.
Hypnosis cannot help you completely delete these bad memories. When you face a trigger that brings you back to a traumatic experience or event, you become faced with the hugest urge to get it out of your head.
However, the harder you try, the more the memories end up coming back into your conscious mind.
It is during these tough moments that we would like to just delete these memories. As previously mentioned, hypnosis and hypnotherapy cannot free you of these traumatic memories, but they are very powerful tools and modalities to help you heal from these traumatic memories and move forward so you don’t have the symptoms that the traumas created.
What your mind does as its own form of coping mechanism is it takes your negative, emotionally charged memories and pushes them into your subconscious as a means of protecting you from re-experiencing the pain and trauma. This is what is commonly known as repression. As we may know from experience, the emotions from these memories can be resurfaced from a trigger, which often causes a rollercoaster of emotions and can also create complete paralysis in our minds.
When you force yourself to suppress a recent painful memory, the memory is recalled. You then add more importance to the memory as the emotions are being re-triggered.
Hypnosis will help manage those memories in a more productive and healthier way.
Memories, with their associated thoughts and emotions, are adaptable and flexible, making us open to suggestion and more able to accept small changes to some of their original meaning.
You can change what a particular memory means to you, how you feel about it, and how you respond to it when you create and attach new pairs and associations and narratives to that memory.
Hypnotherapy is your reframing tool to change and “re-edit” the memories in your mind and your negative pairs and associations with a memory.
Hypnotherapy will help you change how you remember rather than the “raw” memory itself, by releasing the emotional response to the memory you release the symptom.
And remember that you are not an unfortunate victim of you past circumstances but an ingenious survivor.
Hope this gives you a better understanding of what trauma is, how it affects our life and who we are, and how hypnosis and hypnotherapy can help you manage symptoms of traumatic experiences.
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