Psychological trauma can occur when we experience a traumatic event in our lives, meaning a situation in which we perceive a severe threat to our physical safety. Some examples of what this might be include be a car accident, the experience of war, childhood abuse, or any time we perceive that our basic survival needs are not being met. When we encounter situations in life that remind us of past traumatic situations – even just a little – the brain can be triggered to react to these situations in the same way, and this is how we may have the experience that the past event is repeating itself over and over. Sometimes this is called post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, but many is the world of psychotherapy also refer to this repetition of our original response and reaction simply as trauma.
As discussed in the learning capacity and learning disorders section, in the in fight or flight nervous system state, the brain can only take in survival-related information. It can also only repeat responses or behaviors we have done in the past because, rather than take in the rich range of information about the present, it is taking its cues from the emotional memory center of the brain (the amydala), which compares past experiences to the present. Apply this process of using past information to experience, interpret, and respond to the present, and we have trauma. In other words, it is no more – and no less – than triggering the fight or flight nervous system.
Any of the sensing, Body Mapping®, or motor re-pattering techniques discussed in the how to reduce stress section can strengthen the body’s ability to take in accurate sensory information, which calms the nervous system, assuming no immediate physical danger is actually present, and helps return the body the parasympathetic nervous system state. In this state, it is possible to distinguish past from present and develop the ability to relate and respond to situations in new ways. Over time, this also tends to decrease lingering anxiety about the situation repeating itself and helps to develop a true understanding that the traumatic event is over and in the past.