Individuals who live with the gnawing pain of trauma, especially traumas born out of ruptures and betrayals in relationships over their lifetime, often struggle with self-regulation in their life. Daily living dishes out immense challenges when we are hit with an array of intense emotions, numbing, or swarming thoughts.
We continue to repeat these reactive patterns long after the threats are gone, even if the environment we are in are no longer the unsafe ones we were before.
In When the Body says No, Dr Gabor Mate also illustrates and explains the link between long-term experiences of trauma and chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, based on his decades of research and work as a physician. It aligns to the well-established Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) study which informs a relationship between the amount of toxic stress we experience in our lives with the challenges in health and mental health we experience.
Healing from trauma thus involves helping your mind-body let go of those fixed patterns of cognitive and bodily responses that are no longer adaptive or helpful for your daily functioning.
This means unlearning and relearning of the strategies that our body had taken to help us adapt and survive in previous experiences and/or relationships — strategies that once helped us feel safe in an unsafe environment, but are disrupting our lives today.
Healing is in the here and now
This process can involve a lot of looking and listening — looking and listening to our own bodily reactions to triggers and the projection of our bodily reactions to others through self-awareness.
It can also start from simply sprouting body awareness through questions that bring us back to ourselves. These questions could look like:
how is my body being at this moment — tensed, sluggish, relaxed?
Which parts of my body might be calling for my attention?
Is there another way to let my body be — soft, expansive, light?
This awareness continues to branch into subtler body sensations, and one gateway to enter this experience is through our breath. Even as you are reading this, perhaps become aware that you are in this moment, taking a breath in and releasing a breath out.
What do you notice about your breath?
Is it shallow and jagged? Do your chest heave when you breathe?
Count to 5 when you breathe in, and 5 when you breathe out. Do it for 4, 5, even 6 times. What do you notice about your breath after?
How does your body feel when you breathe slower and with more consciousness?
The core of our self-awareness rests on the physical sensations that convey our body’s inner states. When we have a keen attunement into our internal felt sensations, such as hunger, arousal, body temperature, physiological changes and emotions, the potential to feel in control of our lives swells.
We feel in charge of our body, our feelings and our ‘self’.
Regaining power over your life through the healing process
In the process of unlearning, we find opportunities to evaluate the usefulness of these strategies in the present day. If they are no longer useful, then one possibility could be relearning strategies to help us find cues of safety in our physical and social environment, and within ourselves.
This opens up spaces for our mind-body to choose where we want to go next. It could be a decision about how we want to treat our body: allow rest, nourish with comforting food, get moving or exercising. This might also be a decision about how we want to be treated in our relationships: draw necessary boundaries, declare “no” without lingering guilt to please others, or simply voice out our disagreement.
More importantly, we are here and now acknowledging what our body has done for us, for ourselves before others.
Our body is our sole companion in this journey called life. Any internal acknowledgement is a form of standing our ground, making a proud declaration: “I matter, too.”
This is originally published HERE, as part of a series on trauma written in collaboration with the white book. In this series, we unpack what trauma is and where it lies for each of us, as well as how we can start to move away from existing traumas through self-awareness and coregulation. Find out more at thewhitebook.info