Trauma and the body

Guest post: Vivienne Colegrove PHD

Did you know that whenever we go through a difficult time in our lives, memories can live on in the body? Have you ever had that strange experience where you wake up feeling heavy in your arms and legs, noticing a lump in your throat, wondering why tears are close to the surface – only to later realise that today would have been the birthday of someone dear to you who has passed on?

Usually we think this is OK – a sign of how important that person was to us. We accept bodily discomfort and even pain as a part of honouring people and things that matter, of remembrance and grieving.

With trauma, though, discomfort and pain may become more constant companions. A car accident may leave me not only with physical scars, but with body memories of being trapped or stuck that can translate into automatically holding myself in a tense or twisted posture. Experiences of war or combat may also leave their scars on our soldiers’ bodies – having to be constantly ‘on guard’ to stay alive may mean it’s hard to relax, muscles chronically tense and eyes scanning for danger, even when back at home safe with loved ones.

When women, children and men have experienced abuse, bodies also remain on ‘high alert’ – stress hormones that kick in when we need to fight or run coursing through their bodies. Bodies are not designed to cope with these hormones on an ongoing basis. Sooner or later, there is a price to pay. Our hearts struggle to cope, our joints and muscles – even our internal organs creak and groan under the ongoing burden of being in ‘protection’ mode.

Our close relationships may suffer too. We need a relaxed, safe environment to be able to connect intimately with others. Where we cannot find that ‘safe place’ within our own bodies, it’s almost impossible to experience safety with someone else.

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If you have experienced trauma and are now experiencing chronic pain or other health issues, help is available. Body focussed work, including acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine have an important role to play in not only relieving symptoms but resetting the body back into ‘safe mode’.

It can also be vitally important to seek out counselling – to process emotions that were not able to be safely expressed at the time you were going through your traumatic experiences, and may be stored in your body in the form of chronic pain or disease. Make sure you seek out a counsellor who is skilled in working with the bodily as well as emotional and cognitive aspects of trauma recovery.

Dr Vivienne Colegrove is a relationship and family counsellor, who specialises in working with individuals, couples and families in the aftermath of trauma. See her website for more information about her Eltham and Rivers of Yarrambat services at www.elthamrelationshipcounselling.com.au. She can be contacted at 0409 949 300 or at vivienne@elthamrelationshipcounselling.com.au

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