A new way to define trauma

When you hear the word trauma, what comes to mind?

Typically people only attach the word trauma to extreme situations of war, violence or abuse. Those are of course, all traumatic circumstances, but they do not fully define what trauma is.

According to Peter Levine, trauma can stem from anything that overwhelms us—things we go through that we perceive as threatening and we're unable to properly process—car accidents, surgeries, extreme emotional interactions, etc.

All of these things can traumatize a person if their body's natural instinctive reactions aren't able to process through to completion.

We all have built within us the instinct toward fighting, fleeing, or freezing in situations where we perceive a threat.

In fight or flight for example, if people or animals are able to successfully fight their way out of a situation, or flee, their bodies are able to complete their instinctual reaction and trauma is not stored within their nervous systems. In the case that they're unable to escape, instinctually, humans and animals are supposed to move into a freeze state - kind of like an opossum playing dead - where their senses are dulled (to save them from a painful death, in case of encounter with a predator), or to make them appear as an unappetizing meal (apparently some predators will not eat animals that appear dead, because they think the meat may be bad).

After this freeze state, the natural response is for an animal or human to go through a series of convulsions, then deep breaths before returning to a normal state, untraumatized.

Check out this video below of a polar bear processing through his freeze state after a very stressful chase and tranquilization.

Note: This is not my video. It's a video on YouTube that Peter Levine references in his book.

Humans are supposed to do that? Yep.

But our rational brains get in the way. According to Peter, because immobility is a state very similar to death, and because socially it can appear as weakness, the part of our brain that makes us uniquely human, is able to block out this state, causing the stress to be stored within our nervous systems! A beautiful explanation for the emotional releases that I've experienced through bodywork and that my clients have experienced during our sessions.

There's more to come on this later, but I thought you might enjoy this alternative view of trauma.

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Who is Kristen Stephen?

Kristen Stephen is a bodyworker, practicing integrative manual therapy, in Nederland, Colorado. Her mission is to help people live lives with less pain and more joy.

Please note, all material on this website is for for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be taken as medical advice.

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