Trauma can have many effects on the mind and body. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to resources and support for individuals and communities in times of crisis. While reading this blog, we encourage you to go as slow as you need to and to pay attention to any sensations you experience as you engage with the material. This body awareness can help you to relate to yourself with compassion and to gain more understanding of your experience and story as it is continually unfolding. We hope this blog not only informs you about what can happen in the direct aftermath of trauma but also assurance as to how to engage your story and move forward in a way that brings you healing.
During a traumatic event, we experience multiple things at once. Simply put, when we experience trauma or distress, our experience is made up of 5 parts:
- Our thoughts
- Our feelings
- Our physical sensations
- Our bodily inclinations (freeze, fight, flight)
- What we visually see
These different experiences are processed and become memories in different regions of the brain. Thus, the whole concept of the traumatic experience isn’t stored in the same part of the brain but is fragmented and recorded in different locations.
In a threatening experience, these five parts of memory become separated from one another rather than integrated. Neuronally your emotions and cognitive processes are separated when it comes to memory. Bessel Van Der Kolk says that “Dissociation is the essence of trauma. The overwhelming experience is split off and fragmented so that the emotions, sounds, images, thoughts, and physical sensations related to the trauma take on a life of their own.”
On the contrary, if you experienced something in a non-threatening way and environment, the five aspects of memory would be differentiated but connected within brain function/health, thus integrated. If individuals who have experienced trauma and fragmentation continue their lives without interventions, they will likely become more fragmented neuronally. This can lead to a felt sense of ongoing chaos. Yet this is not the end of the story.
If a person experiences attuned care and a listening ear in the direct aftermath of trauma, this can help bring brain health, where different aspects of the traumatic experience are recorded in memory but in an integrated manner rather than fragmented. Talking about your experience with another trusted person who cares for you can be the intervention that can reduce brain fragmentation. Engaging with your story by talking about and understanding your experience can be the road back to integration.
Because of trauma, you may have experienced attuned care, or you might have been unable to access such a listener. Yet, now might be the most opportune time to engage your story and share your experience with a trusted person and even a trauma-informed therapist. We would love to sit down with you and hold space for your life and past experiences so that you might experience more healing.
Van der Kolk, Bessel A. “The body keeps the score : brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma.” New York, New York : Viking, 2014.