Lots of complex trauma symptoms aren’t just thoughts and feelings.
When we think of psychological struggles, we often think of painful thoughts and feelings.
Very often discussions of psychotherapy revolve around cognitive therapy— a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the relationship between thoughts and feelings.
When we think of therapy or recovery meetings, we think of people talking to each other about their feelings.
But many times trauma symptoms, notably flashbacks, AREN’T confined to thoughts or feelings.
Rather, we “feel” them…everywhere.
Lots of people reading this know what it’s like to get triggered, to be thrust into flashback…and for our ENTIRE body to respond.
My own pattern of physical responsiveness when I’m triggered is shaking and shivering.
Often we’re not even all that aware of the thoughts or feelings that accompany getting triggered, because our body’s physical reactions are so overwhelming.
Sometimes when we’re triggered we’re actually separated from our thoughts and feelings, at least for a moment, by dissociation.
When we experience an emotional flashback in particular, it’s not so much that we’re thinking in child-like ways or feeling things we felt as a child (though that does happen)— it’s that we feel LIKE a child.
In my experience, talking ourselves through a flashback or abreaction is incredibly important— but it’s only the start.
The aftereffects of abuse, neglect, and other trauma don’t just distort our thinking or hurt our feelings— they get hard wired into the physical cells and reflexes of our body.
Because of this, many trauma therapists feel that physical movement and soothing is central to trauma recovery.
Some theorists, such as Peter Levine, believe that getting trapped in traumatic situations short circuits our instinct to flee and escape a dangerous situation— and that to resolve trauma symptoms, we need the opportunity to physically discharge the energy from our thwarted escape attempt.
Many people who utilize Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) techniques in their therapy or recovery describe its impact not just on their thoughts and feelings, but on their overall physical reactivity.
Some people report that tapping on various points of their face and body, like proponents of Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) recommend, helps create change in their body as well as their thoughts and feelings as they work to integrate trauma.
People who have experimented with the “HeartMath” technique report a similar phenomenon— that it takes their recovery work beyond thoughts and feelings, and anchors it in their physical self.
The research literature on what works and doesn’t work in trauma recovery can be complicated and sometimes confusing. There are valid criticisms of the way psychological research is conducted in general— and it’s hard to make generalizations about what will work for specific people, based on what’s performed well in a research trial.
People and their traumatic experiences can be very, very different from each other.
What works to heal them may look very, very different— and it may not necessarily conform to the “by the book” application of ANY known healing technique.
What we DO know is that healing often has to go beyond what we think and feel.
Trauma hits is in the body as well as the mind— so we have to pay attention to our body if we want to realistically recover.
This might mean more than talk therapy or support groups.
Keep an open mind.
Keep your recovery focused on you.
And remember: it’s not just about thoughts and feelings.
I think I heard somewhere that “the body keeps the score.”