Trauma — The body keeps score — Chapter 1

How do you define trauma? It often seems that amongst the spectrum of harm only some of it is considered damaging enough to warrant the label “Trauma”. We have been playing with the idea that trauma is anything that keeps us from being able to person (thanks Allora). By this we mean that there are certain events which require us to develop coping mechanisms that limit how we engage the moment, and future moments that seem similar. In this way we are restricted in how we show up, unable to bring our person in our fullness. Trauma could also be said to be anything that impedes our ability to function. In this sense trauma triggers a particular response that is more designed for self-preservation rather than presence and connection, limiting how we person in the moment.

We spoke about how trauma continues after the initial event and were reminded of Annie Rogers, who said “What you fear most has already happened” and linked it to one of the Psychopathology readings where Donald Winnicott says “The patient must go on looking for the past detail which is not yet experienced. This search takes the form of a looking for this detail in the future.” Because the trauma is so painful we tend to split it off rather than integrate it. As the experience of it is not registered as past we locate it as future and fear it. In this way the traumatized person is desiring wholeness, yet is seeking it in ways that do not lead to wholeness. This is not surprising given that the trauma restricts them from bringing all of their person to the task. Unnoticed by the individual, this leads to feelings of shame about not being person enough to deal/cope with the trauma or shame about how they are person-ing because of the trauma.

At some point, the therapeutic task is to enter the trauma with the person. Bessel van der Kolk warns, “the act of telling the story doesn’t necessarily alter the automatic physical and hormonal responses of bodies that remain hypervigilant.” As such it is not so important that they tell their story of trauma as it is how they connect with their story and with themselves as they tell it. How much of the trauma can be described or expressed before they lose the capacity to be present both with themselves and their story? Does this approach manage to draw the body into the therapeutic process in a supportive way that encourages wholeness? What do you think?