Trauma & PTSD
More than 60% of adults have experienced trauma as children according to the CDC.
America is at it’shighest rates of stress and anxiety as well as highest rates of suicide ever! Furthermore we’re taking the least care of ourselves statistically shown.
What is trauma?
Trauma is any event, experience, or situation that overwhelmed our ability to cope and process what happened to us. Whether it’s a one-time event or something that happens repeatedly over time, the trauma becomes so deeply devastating and hurtful on a mental, emotional, physical, and or spiritual level that we lose a sense of ourselves. If trauma goes unresolved, it can get stored in our systems – our bodies, minds, and nervous systems – causing long-lasting effects in our lives.
At its core, trauma is an emotional injury. It’s what all the different types of trauma have in common. The emotional scars we carry run deep. Unless we work through the trauma, we may never feel that safety in life again.
- Our traumas dictate how we view and interact with the world.
- Trauma can affect our ability to connect with God.
- Not just behaviorally, but traumas can change us on a cellular level.
- To a degree trauma is in the eye of the beholder.
- When we experience trauma, it affects us 5 fold – Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual, Social
- If we have unresolved trauma we are going to see threat in places where it’s not really there, but we’re not going to be able to recognize that it’s not there.
- Trauma deadens body responses. It dumbs down our ability to feel our own needs, our fluid capacity to participate in life.
- The difference in success or failure out of a trauma is not what the trauma was that happened, it’s the relationship to that thing that happened.
- Our resiliency to trauma is partly dependent on what our brain health looks like coming into the trauma. If you take care of your brain beforehand then it really minimizes the risk of long term effects.
Big T trauma – Car accident, sexual assault, physical abuse, domestic violence, natural disasters, War, death or loss of a child, mass shootings, witnessing a “big T” event, experiencing a pandemic or other large societal event. These leave physical and emotional scars in the body and brain.
Little t trauma – unmet needs during the years of childhood, our parents didn’t give us quite what we needed – to reach out for care and not get it is a trauma, emotional abuse, developmental trauma, verbal abuse, neglect, divorce, betrayal, rejection, being shamed, death or loss of a loved one (including a pet), chronic stress and feeling overwhelmed, being bullied or harassed, experiencing a pandemic.
When little “t” traumas don’t get worked through they can turn into a Big “T” trauma.
Trauma can be passed down through methylation and epigenetics through 1-4 generations (if the same trauma doesn’t reoccur) from the Mothers side. Our experiences and environment changes and influences our genes…particularly the NR3C1 Gene. Hair color, eyes color some are static and unchanging but most are ever changing. The NR3C1 gene is the gene that is the receptor for Cortisol. That’s important because that’s the receptor to our stress hormone.
Studies show that women that were domestically abused showed this gene switched on and it was also found in the kids 10-19 years later.
FKBP1 is another marker that is affected. This one codes for the sensitivity to cortisol. (We see this in the holucost survivors and their children.)
If you think about it, because of trauma, our bodies are preparing the next generation for a world that it’s anticipating. Our bodies are preparing for a world of trauma and danger so it needs to adapt accordingly.
But there’s more than one way to think of it….there’s more than just genes that run in families. There’s patterns of thinking that run in families. Stories that were told, run in families. Stories that were not told, run in families. Food habits run in families. Behavioral systems run in families. And because the kids learn from their families and learn the “suck it up” mentality it becomes part of their programming and they don’t have discrimination over it. And so they pick up habits and those habits also run in families.
There are genes waiting to be ignited or not ignited. And the environment makes the difference. You could have a genetic predisposition to something and it never get ignited. What are the precursors of that ignition? How do we live in such a way so that those never get triggered?
Relational trauma can be worse because we feel more that it wasn’t an accident like a car wreck or something – it was ‘intentional’ by another human being.
Many people say it’s “no big deal” what happened as a child – however, it’s had a lasting impact and we’ve operated for so long in specific ways because of that, that it’s tough to come back from. We have patterns in life and habits in life that are a reflection of what they went through.
General Adaptive Potential:
The nervous system mediates and modulates. No matter what kind of trauma, it’s all processed through the nervous system.
If the bandwidth of your nervous system is such that the trauma can come in and can dissipate that stress then the body’s going to continue to function and thrive rather than go into defense physiology, it can continue to process those stressors and continue to grow.
General Adaptive Potential – ‘what did they bring to the party’, how strong was their body in all senses to fight.
If someone has a wide gap, they’ll absorb that stress and probably be ok.
But as we age, have chronic stress, not eating right, not stewarding our bodies well, their general depth of potential starts to narrow. And as it starts to narrow, that trauma could affect them 10 times more. Rather than being flexible, they break.
The Brain Body Connection:
Close your eyes and think about your favorite candy….maybe it’s sweet tarts….
Notice as you think about it you can start to get a smell for it and eventually you start salivating….BRAIN BODY CONNECTION!
So when we think something in our mind, our body responds to that. So if that can happen on a very simple level, what do you think happens on a much larger scale, meaning trauma and stress?
When our minds and emotions are in a certain state our body responds… But if we can change what our brain is thinking, then we can change how our emotions are operating, and then we can change the response in the body.
Even though we think trauma is a mental health distress, our body is the first thing to let you know that you’re not ok.
Nervous system 101
- Stressed State – Sympathetic Nervous System
- Healing State – Parasympathetic Nervous System
Characteristics of Sympathetic Arousal
Over time with chronic stress…constant little acute stressors take our body into a sympathetic state.
Your body needs to have the right conditions to be able to heal.
Studies show that when our body is in a stressed state it will take 24% longer to heal from an injury.
If the trauma gets stuck in our brain it will consequently get lodged somewhere in our body, holding in a specific muscle area of the body and not release, because it’s too much to handle. Muscle Armour – our bodies create tension in the muscles to defend against pain or imagined pain. Furthermore, if it’s not dealt with in the body it’s going to turn into disease.
Trauma can affect our nervous system for years if we don’t work towards healing. Major traumas are significantly impactful not only in our thinking but in our CNS. They can cause us to react for years to come if we don’t know how to transform those reactions that get stored in the nervous system.
When trauma happens, multiple systems or even just one system assumes responsibility containing the overwhelm and that can keep us mostly functional, while one system is compromised. But part of our capacity is unavailable.
Unresolved trauma = chronic illness.
When people hang on to or adapt to their trauma. Trauma can change the lens and perception and when that happens it can build and build on that.
In many ways, the body makes us build walls, whether they’re emotional or physical or both. The mind and body look for ways to protect themselves.These are involuntary survival mechanisms; short term solutions that don’t lead to growth. On the contrary they can lead to severe long term health issues.
Often people say, “oh I do yoga, breathwork, etc. but I still don’t feel any different.” That’s because it’s already gotten into the body and it’s just hangin out.
Unresolved trauma leads to PTS or PTSD and then behavioral issues and often more traumas with a rapid downward spiral.
Our liver and large intestine are the largest producers of transmitters. Neurotransmitters are what’s sent to the brain to help us feel grounded, they help us think clearly and they directly impact the hormone production in our brain.
If we are inundated with toxins and inflammation, the liver and large intestine are constantly in overdrive trying to process out the inflammation and toxins. They never get to the secondary job of creating these neurotransmitters. Because processing this junk out keeps us alive. Creating neurotransmitters just helps us think clearly. The body will always default to keeping us alive. So this causes brainfog, spinning, memory issues, and we don’t feel grounded.
Over time from not dealing with the trauma head on, you develop coping systems.
Fight and flight we like way more because it gives us a sense of power. We often fight or flight because they’re coping with the freeze, what they lost. Addiction begins and ends with pain. It’s because we can’t BE with our pain that we keep running from it.
2 questions to ask:
- Are you numbing and distracting – if so how? Are you coming home and going right to the tv or food?
- What are you pretending not to see? Are you pretending not to see the trouble in your relationship? Are you pretending not to see that health issue?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a trauma and stress-related disorder that may develop after exposure to an event or ordeal in which death or severe physical harm occurred or was threatened. People who suffer from the disorder include military troops, rescue workers, and survivors of shootings, bombings, violence, and rape. Family members of victims can develop the disorder as well through vicarious trauma.
PTSD affects about 8 million American adults and can occur at any age, including childhood. Women are more likely to develop the disorder than men, and there is some evidence that it may run in families. PTSD is frequently accompanied by depression, substance use disorder, and anxiety disorders. When other conditions are appropriately diagnosed and treated, the likelihood of successful treatment increases.
When symptoms develop immediately after exposure and persist for up to a month, the condition may be called acute stress disorder. PTSD is diagnosed when the stress symptoms following exposure have persisted for over a month. Delayed expression of PTSD can occur if symptoms arise six months or more following the onset of trauma.
Any kind of trauma below the neck can generate a group of chemicals which leak or transmit into the brain which create an inflammation which we refer to as neuroinflammation that leads to the disruption of the chemistry of the brain and the function of the brain.
History of trauma = reduction in hormones
FMRI Studies done on brains:
Being chronically overwhelmed and stressed actually shows the same shrinkage in the prefrontal cortex (the executive function/adult brain) as people with PTSD. Frontal lobe damage can actually happen just from emotional traumas.
Not reacting appropriately to certain situations – emotions and actions don’t match what’s going on – that’s indicative of frontal lobe damage.
People think that the stress response is the problem. When we’re under threat the sympathetic nervous system takes over and the problem isn’t in the sympathetic nervous system but in fact… the first thing that happens within milliseconds with a threat response is in the amygdala is the vagus nerve which is directly connected drops out, so the activity of this nerve which is trying to keep us healthy is now in our boots and it’s not online anymore to keep the system in check and then the sympathetic nervous system has stayed in effect keeping us in fight or flight. But in the meantime as long as we’re there the activity of the vagus nerve is too low to be checking for infection, to be checking on the immune system and the anti-inflammatory properties of the vagus nerve. It’s not online to keep our digestion working, or online to keep cancer cells under control.
SO THIS IS HUGE AS WE TALK ABOUT THE IMPACT OF STRESS AND TRAUMA ON OUR BODIES. It’s not the PSNS that’s the bad guy, it’s the fact that we don’t have the vagus nerve to keep us healthy.
Physiological Impact on the Brain from Trauma:
When someone has a trauma, the occipital region of their brain turns off to protect itself. That’s the visual center of the brain.
The left brain is very interesting because the left brain wants perspective. The left brain wants memory, not just for validation of it’s stress but actually so it can decide how it feels about it.
0-3 we don’t have a lot of memories.
Once your CNS has endured a trauma it doesn’t know that the event is no longer a harming event so it’s prone to being on.
Also, during highly traumatic events, that cortisol secretion does block memory formation or distorts it.
From a brain standpoint, the brain just can’t stay in an activated state so it will cause memory issues, focus issues, ADD, etc.
The left brain wants to do something about what happened, so it wants information. It wants the memory to tell it and to tell who did what…so it can blame, so it can be angry, so it can stay hurt and be upset.
With the nervous system, the right brain is so ready for love and to be healed that all they need is to know what’s possible and what they need is what they didn’t get. They don’t need to know exactly what happened, just a general idea so they can tolerate the context of how they could be hurt.
Trauma is embodied and perseverated on. And the imagination often keeps replaying things. That’s traumatic memory and it’s not accurate to the event that happened, it’s accurate to how the body responded to it and continues to.
So for the body, because you’re always in this cortisol activated state, you’re going to see increased heart rate, sweating, sleep problems, struggle with weight loss, etc….
Triggers are like ocean waves – they’re gonna keep coming.
When we have a trauma, we have sensory triggers…a trigger is an activation from trauma. Over time that repeated activation heightens our nervous systems so that you’re more likely to respond to stressors. Then your body gets worn out and when it gets worn out it tries to reduce that visual load by turning off those visual centers in the brain. Which causes a whole host of issues including memory issues.
Often when something happens in front of us, those pictures can’t get out of our heads. And it’s scary because we never know when they’re going to show up.
If we have a huge response to something little, we’re reacting from history with an over sensitized nervous system.
Learn what our triggers are, how to soothe and down regulate our nervous system and how to tolerate distress so we are not so reactive.
When someone experiences the loss of a loved one they must deal with the loss AND the grief. The loss of a loved one can spread like ripples. Grief can spread and affect multiple parties around. Furthermore, everybody experiences grief differently. So often we feel like victims when we’re in grief. But the difference between being a victim and being empowered is understanding that you have choices.
Hanging onto trauma can literally kill you.
Grief signal words:
- Holding grudges
Grief is underneath. They’re in a non-forgiving past, holding onto an emotional state.
Guilt is next – “I could have done something”.
Then Shame – “I’m a bad person, a weak person, maybe I deserve to have this happen to me.”
When you’ve been more emotionally abused, you’ll tend to blame yourself.
Fear is a big feeling for many with unresolved trauma.
When you talk about it, it can be released! When you can work through your grief and trauma, there’s gifts to be received.
Bitterness + Resentment – When we hold onto bitterness and resentment it can hurt us more than the other person. It doesn’t mean forgetting. It’s a misnomer that we think we should be able to make these feelings go away. But you don’t get over things, you get through them.
Substance abuse, belligerange, and eating disorders are short-term solutions to trauma. Many people use these to regain control.
Short term solutions only provide temporary relief. In the long run, they can lead to even more stress, anxiety and physical health issues.
Eating disorders start out as adaptive behavior in an effort to soothe and in order to feel safe and secure. Very often what happens is the person is dissociating with their body and it becomes maladaptive behavior.
We’re programmed to avoid things that are difficult here in the 21st century. That includes spiritual and emotional growth. It’s easier to bury our trauma than it is to face it. But at what cost? Often we don’t take action on our trauma until it’s overwhelming us. Don’t let your trauma take control over your body and your life.
Change starts with decision and that happens in an instant. To see the results of change takes time. Being trapped in the trauma is being trapped in a fight, flight, or freeze response.….so how do we teach people the skills for how they can self soothe, self organize and realize and recondition themselves from the trauma. It’s all about how we rehab the relationship with ourselves, others, and the world.
To get started on your healing from trauma journey what can you start with?
Ask the question: What can I let go? There’s often a lot of guilt partnered with trauma. You have to forgive yourself first.
There’s always something that keeps us bound to our trauma. Maybe you heal physically via MMA and feel stronger and in control and physically safe again….but you don’t wanna take a risk and open your heart again. But as you rebuild 1 level of physicality, you start to wonder and get curious about how you could heal emotionally…understanding how you might be constricted emotionally. “I’m not willing to open my heart unless I can be in control. SO maybe I’ll give the gifts and give them something. So I became a giver…but I never received.”
Forgiveness is empathy for ourselves and others. Something we’re not usually taught, is to train the brain. We’re great at food and exercise but not the brain. Essentially we’re good a training physical fitness but not emotional.
The way to forgiveness is to make sense of the impact and the meaning that those life experiences had. Extract the good, and then we can move towards a place of forgiveness. Then that’s the point where people can really let go.
Dealing with our traumas takes a high level of awareness and courage. Unfortunately for some the grief associated with trauma is too much to bear. It can lead to self harm to suicide.
Forgiveness is willing to let go of the conclusions and assumptions. Just look at it as an experience. It’s a great opportunity to ask ourselves, what am I supposed to learn from this?
Forgiveness is empathy for ourselves and others.
Something we’re not usually taught, is to train the brain. We’re great at food and exercise but not the brain. Essentially we’re good a training physical fitness but not emotional.
Love and compassion heals trauma more than anything.
You are not your trauma – it’s an experience! To be free of the trauma we have to dig to that place in ourselves that can’t be affected by the trauma…and that exists in every one of us. Healing trauma is like an onion – peel back one layer at a time and stay focused on what you’re peeling only – stay in the moment. A lot of people that go through trauma define themselves by their trauma. Some people only see their worth from the trauma they’ve experienced. Your trauma is not you, it’s just an experience you had.
You can’t share your trauma with just anybody because they might say “get over it, you’re crazy.” It’s gotta be a safe environment.
Some people struggle to be in touch with their bodies and understand what they’re feeling. You can ask and they say “I feel nothing”. It’s a struggle to get them to connect with their bodies…furthermore what they desire or need…or allowing themselves to need and to want – that’s one of the things taken away with trauma.
Talk therapy is not always the answer for trying to heal trauma. Because if the signs and symptoms are showing up in the body physiologically, and they’re talking about the trauma – they’re in their heads and we need them to be in the body. They don’t feel, see, experience their bodies the way God intended…so it’s important to help them experience things that help them feel embodied so they can inhabit what they have to and in a healthy way purge what they are holding onto.
Actively pursue, confront and commit to understanding what’s going on inside of you.
What we need to do after a trauma is get back to homeostasis in our bodies, our sense of equilibrium.
1st 4 things to hit when going through a trauma:
- Exercise: increases substances called brain derived neurotrophic factors; ie fertilizers for our brain, especially for the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, so it actually helps the nerves to grow
- Sleep – if you’re not sleeping well, you’re not healing
Exercise – Weight bearing exercise and aerobic exercise, the changes in our body when it comes to our hormones and epigenetic changes that happen to our hormones and adrenal glands is pretty incredible. We can handle stress the more fit we are, both mentally and physically.
Not all stress on the body is bad. Sports and exercise for example is also releasing adrenaline, but it’s coming with a different response – a challenge vs. trauma response and that makes all the difference.
H20 + Nutrition – Hydration is huge for flushing toxins out and keeping us from having inaccurate feelings of anxiety. Dehydration has the same symptoms..
+ If we’re eating like crap, we’re inducing an inflammatory state in our body and if we are inducing an inflammatory state our bodies are going to respond. And how are they going to respond, by producing cortisol. Cortisol doesn’t have to be a response to mental stress. Cortisol can be a response to physical stress. If you exercise too much, you’re going to be releasing too much cortisol, it’s gonna deplete and go down to the ground. The same thing happens if we are enduring a physical trauma, like eating crap, over and over and over, that affects our cortisol greatly too.
+ Serotonin has large affects on the limbic system. And the majority of serotonin is actually in our gut.
There’s adaptogenic herbs that target our adrenal glands. Adaptogenic herbs help the adrenal gland adapt to stress and there’s different kinds. Holy Basil, Rhodiola, Ginseng, Schisandra. These are amazing ones that help our bodies both adapt to mental and physical stressors.
It’s also choosing the people in your life.
You may need to take time for you each day.
Meditation is huge.
Things have to be a thought before they can be a thing.
When we say shameful things our cheeks get red, when we see scary things, our hearts beat faster.
What if when we think toxic thoughts, our body ruptures?
Every time you have a bad thought, interrupt it! Redirect intentionally. Quit training “bad form”.
Sometimes for people that have been through a trauma, it’s just too much for them to talk about it, to go there, to use their mental energy because they just don’t have the resources so better to support them physically – to do things like neuroplastic therapy, support their gut health, lower inflammation levels because when their brains and nervous systems get stronger, then the resources to actually process all of this is possible.
SO there’s lots of things we can do to increase our neuroplasticity even at home…so like writing with your left hand rather than your right. When you do that you add novelty to your nervous system and it starts to shift things around and so if there’s an area of your brain that’s been injured you can use the other side to take over.
How do we best remove trauma from our bodies?
Breathwork #1 – highly affects the central nervous system
If we are trying to bring energy back to the system it’s a different breath work than trying to down regulate. Know the different types and when to use them.
Most people only breathe from the chest up…they’re not breathing from the diaphragm up. They come in and their diaphragms are super tight and constricted.
Awareness alone can be enough to make a shift in healing.
EFT and tapping are amazing!
There’s no one way to heal trauma. Everyone’s different and there’s different seasons of life where different methods will work better than others.
From a physiological standpoint, meditation is one of the most healing practices you can do for trauma because it helps the HPA Axis.
HPA Axis: It’s the way our brain and adrenals where all those adrenal hormones are released – interact.
“Hey adrenals, I know it’s a stressful situation but you don’t have to shoot so much adrenaline out.”
Furthermore it causes epigenetic changes in our brain. It puts us in a less anxious state. A less depressed state. And a more open and receptive state.
Trauma is a violation of boundaries, whether that’s physical or emotional. Human violation of boundary is much harder to recover from because there’s a trust that’s been broken.
Boundaries are huge especially when healing from trauma. In this day in age there’s a sense of self worth if we are busy and we feel important in front of people. We need to learn that doing less is doing more.
Expressing in very concrete measurable ways what we are willing to tolerate and what we aren’t. What we’re able to sustain and what we aren’t.
One of the boundary signs is recognizing when my body is going into Fight or Flight and I need to stop. Making the plan ahead of time to tell your partner “Im feeling flooded and I need to stop.”
There actually is opportunity for people to grow from trauma; from the experience. Once they’re able to understand what they went through they’re able to extract the good. Make use of the traumas. Turn lemons into lemonade.
Transformation is about being the change – not about what we can do.
Trauma and Society:
By not working to heal from our trauma we continue to hold it in and eventually we’ll blow. If we are not taking responsibility for our emotions, we are pushing it out into society. Be careful of holding onto your trauma and infecting all of those around you. My behaviors affect those around me.
Think about if we all walk around harbouring anger, grief, resentment, etc.
If each of us individually aren’t taking responsibility for our emotions we’re contributing to the macro problem. Eventually this balloon of negative emotions collectively is going to bust.
There’s a misconception that people feel shame or weakness in dealing with trauma. But in fact, the change we experience in lieu of the trauma is actually our greatest strength.
Find meaning in the most trying and traumatic of situations. Heal Your Past, Transform Your Future.
There’s value in going through and feeling those bad feelings, because we come out stronger on the other side. Over time we need to move more towards the positive aspects and what we learned, how we grew, what we can take away from this experience to facilitate healing.
There’s no time table for healing and it’s never too late to start.
Without hardship, we’d never would have to evolve our hearts to the level we do. Anyone who heals from trauma opens themselves up to deeper compassion and understanding and less judgement of their fellows.
Everyone has a story. Use your story for good.
Go from surviving to thriving.
Do some people, some personalities recover from traumas easier than others?
Some people have a degree of resilience coming into a situation. Maybe having people they can turn to. And rather than isolate, they go talk to those people. Those people help get the resources to get this person to bounce back.
Those that isolate will have less resilience. Or if they have experienced many prior traumas…the new bigger trauma could activate all those little ones from the past, so they may feel less likely to move through the trauma.
Resources: (Click on the below)
Watch this video and process through the below questions:
1. What distinguishes PTSD from other traumatic experiences?
2. Danny mentions in the opening scene that during war, showing signs of weakness is unacceptable.This can allow PTSD to go unnoticed for an extended amount of time. We also have a tendency to avoid showing weak- ness in our everyday “civilian life.” What does this look like? What can we do to keep this from inhibiting our mental health?
3. The professional counselors, Jennifer and Myque mention that people might have symptoms of anxiety and depression, but they have not yet realized that these are just symptoms resulting from a traumatic situation. What practical questions can we begin to ask a friend who is trying to connect pieces of their past and move toward mental health?
4. Can addiction and trauma also be connected? What does this look like?
5. Carla said that JC had cocaine in his body when he was born, so the trauma in his life started in the womb. How can we better serve, love and support mothers as they prepare for caring for an infant who suffers from trauma?
6. JB mentions the reality of community trauma. How would you define community trauma?
7. How can we as individuals or as a church be more pro- active in caring for those impacted by community trauma?
8. Joan mentions that trauma impacts every zip code. What are some examples of trauma that can occur out- side a war zone in the confines of a “safe”, middle class suburban home?
9. Myque mentions that PTSD does not just impact our mind but it can also impact our physical behavior. This can show up in our culture as road rage, fist fights and fits of rage. What are some practical things we need to be aware of to keep ourselves safe and those who are suffering from PTSD safe when we encounter this?
10.Jennifer spoke about the trauma that occurs when the intrinsic bond with a family member is broken. We react differently to this than the trauma we feel from a car accident. Why is it important to be aware of this difference? How can individuals or the church do a better job of caring for those who suffer from this trauma of a broken intrinsic bond?
11. JB mentions the importance of those who are suffer- ing to recognize the value in “care receiving.” He says it is even richer than self-care. What if someone appears to not want our help? How can we still pursue them and offer our care?
12. JB states that we have to be okay to struggle and get away from “the mask.” What do we do once we figure out that we meet the criteria for PTSD and we are ready to look for help? What are the best first steps for us to take?
13. Make a list of all of the veterans you personally know. What are some practical things you can do today to help provide them community and care?
- Lamentations 3:21-23
- Psalm 62:8
- Proverbs 22:3
- Job 36:15
- John 8:32
- 2 Thessalonians 3:5