What You Need to Know About Trauma – The Body Keeps the Score (Part One)

‘The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma’ is a reassuring and gentle, loving hug to those affected by adverse trauma saying, “You are not alone.” It is a piercing and scientific look into how trauma disrupts your emotional regulation system, the way your brain operates, and the impact of trauma itself in your relationships.

The beautiful thing about the way trauma is addressed in this book is how it delves into traumatised people without judgement or scorn, but with love and empathy; the love and empathy that traumatised people deeply need to heal.

I highly recommend this also to people, leaders in communities included and especially, who struggle to understand the effects of trauma and how you can play your part in ensuring you are not victim-blaming and shaming traumatised people. That is the last thing we need, and it is not in the least bit helpful and only speaks to a level of self-shame that is not willing to be addressed in yourself or feeling that you would have responded differently in such a situation (that they’ve never been in).

It urges to look at the way the system is structured which are the natural breeding grounds of trauma. Lastly, it looks at the ways traumatised people can heal, be that through yoga, boxing, EMDR, psychomotor therapy, art, theatre, neurofeedback, etc.

I did find the science-y parts a little difficult to digest, I’ve read enough about the pre-fontal medial cortex to understand it means… erm.. well. But the amygdala! Is responsible for processing and regulating emotions… right?

The Body Keeps the Score

Trigger Warnings // Mentions of trauma including child abuse, domestic violence, self-harm, substance abuse, rape and sexual assault

Here are some interesting facts, statistics, lessons and anecdotes I learned along the way:

  1. Trauma is more common than you think.
Trauma is more common than you realise.

Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that 1 in 5 Americans were sexually molested as a child; 1 in 4 was beaten by a parent; and 1 in 3 couples engages in physical violence. A quarter of Americans grew up with alcoholic relatives, and 1 out of 8 witnessed their mother being beaten or hit.

I don’t know what this roughly translates to in your country of residence, but childhood trauma as a result of being the victim of abuse or witnessing abuse of a caregiver is more common than you realise. I thought it was interesting to note that physical violence in relationships is more common than you think. I’ve personally heard stories of men justifying violence against women. One man, in particular, relayed that his sister was hit by her husband after she “told him off” in front of his mother. He then stated that he isn’t justifying violence against women, but he understands why his brother-in-law hit his sister. Violence against women in relationships is not only common but can be justified by some with the excuse that they have children together too.

  • Trauma is embedded into our system once in and can be reactivated by triggers.
Let’s discuss – the reactivation of trauma through triggers and flashbacks

Long after the traumatic episode, the memories can be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger. Think of this, how many times, when you speak to your manager at a new job, do you feel you are in danger? A bad experience or traumatic episode in the past can activate anticipatory rejection, abandonment and loss. Instead of accepting constructive feedback, you might see it as an attack or a potential threat to you keeping your job? How many times do you fear abandonment in your friendships and relationships? How many times do you walk past a location where you went through a traumatic incident? You may respond impulsively and aggressively, activating your fight/flight/fawn response. When you’re on edge like this, your emotions can overwhelm you, you might find yourself lashing out to protect yourself, your anger channelling through communicating a great injustice was done to yourself, you might go back to square one which is feeling helpless and out of control again. When this happens, when trauma is reactivated, it almost feels as if life will never be normal again. Flashbacks take you right back to the past, to the traumatising episode(s) and the pain and betrayal it came with. It can be depressing.

  • Trauma compromises and recalibrates the brain’s alarm system which is why traumatised people become hypervigilant to threat in their day-to-day life.
Trauma compromises and recalibrates the brain’s alarm system which is why traumatised people become hypervigilant to threat in their day-to-day life

A lot of times, you will hear people blame the victims, “Why didn’t they leave?” “It happened again, so surely it’s your fault.” But traumatised people have trouble learning from experience, and it isn’t a moral failing”, “lack of willpower” or “bad character” – it is caused by actual changes in the brain. It takes a victim of domestic violence up to and average of 51 incidents before they leave. We can also develop a trauma bond to our abusers, similar to how Stockholm Syndrome operates (case in point – Daenerys Targaryen and Khal Drogo). With the level of victim-blaming you hear, especially from elders in communities, I can only imagine that it turns people away from those communities at a time when people need love, understanding, compassion and acceptance.

  • Drugs, alcohol, and self-harm can be a response to trauma.
Substance addiction and self-harm can be responses to trauma

 Once again, I think drug and alcohol addiction needs to be handled with great care and those who engage in it should not be shunned. We all self-medicate in our own ways. It can be a way to numb the pain of trauma. Community leaders, whether imams, scholars, churches, etc, should extend a compassionate hand of mercy to those who suffer from substance misuse and interventions established to help those coping with trauma heal in healthier ways. “At that age they should know better”, well, if it’s all they’ve known, that is what they will turn to. Self-harm can sometimes be a tool to gain control or even punish your body or release pain. It is also a highly common response to sexual assault and rape. I once heard of a man who threatened his victim, whom he repeatedly raped, that if she reports him for rape, he’ll have her sectioned. Bearing in mind that there is a chain of events that led to the self-harm. Never allow someone to shame you for coping in the only way you knew how at that moment. To reiterate, compassion and mercy must be extended to traumatised people who self-harm as a way to cope.

  • Sometimes traumatised people placate their abuser & victim-blaming is pathetic projection.
More often than not, victim-blaming is projection

“One of the hardest things for traumatised people is to confront their shame about the way they behaved during a traumatic episode.” This includes placating their abuser, be that a child or a victim of rape. For both, remember, please remember, you did what you had to survive. Whether that is being nice and non-threatening to an abusive caregiver knowing full well that they will continue to live in that household, so you adopt amiability to alleviate and reduce the abuse you suffer. Whether you’re in a relationship with someone, who has just raped you, and you’re in the middle of nowhere, with no obvious support for help, alone with your partner, so you play nice, so that you won’t be subject to further harm. This is why I always say it can be a bad idea to start yelling and shouting when you’re sure that no one can come to your aid. Sometimes people will say, well, why didn’t you yell? Well, if you did, you could have lost your life. That’s why. We do what we have to do to survive. The weight of expectations that are placed on the victims’ shoulders are ludicrous and oftentimes projections of societies failures. Some are too weak to take action against the perpetrators, but it feels too embarrassing to drop your ego and admit this, so they target the victim instead to make them feel superior again. Victim-shaming is dangerous, yes, but it is also a pathetic projection. People are against rape until it’s their friend from whom they can lose tangible benefits e.g. someone to do activities with, someone who can ‘like’ their pictures on Instagram, etc. So, the easier route is to blame the victim. Traumatised individuals who are victims of abuse must remember that victim-shaming is projection and never personal. Some of these people who victim-shame, I’ve seen a lot of older South Asian Muslim men do this, take pleasure in victim-shaming, they like to shame victims because it makes them feel superior, when in reality they are weak men. You can’t allow anyone to shame you all so it makes them feel better about the fact that they’re useless in protecting women as the Qur’an commands them to be. So, always remember, what happened.. it was not your fault.

This concludes part one of this series on trauma.

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Sophia

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2 Comments

  1. I read this book and really liked it. Also think you can’t be alive without some trauma being housed in your body. It sounds dramatic, but the body does keep the score.

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  2. Thank you so much for this post, Sophia! First of all, it’s always exciting to see your name in my inbox! And the book sounds like something I’ll have to look at as well! ❤ Much love your way, always!

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