If you have a body, then you have experienced trauma. Although the spectrum of trauma can greatly vary, the memory is universally housed in the same facility for each of us–The Body.
Some form of trauma is an inevitable fact of life, however, the debilitating level of suffering that often accompanies it does not have to be a lifelong sentence. Today we will explore the effects of one of the greatest symptoms of trauma: Immobility or freezing, which can leave a person feeling powerless, numb and at war with their own body. Immobility can occur the moment trauma strikes as a critical and often only available option of defense. This is especially true when dealing with childhood trauma (fighting or fleeing is rarely an option). When trauma happens hormonal and chemical warriors are released throughout the brain and body like an alarm bell that affects the way memory and physical sensation is felt, stored and then filed for future reference. Staying in a frozen state long after the traumatic event is incredibly common, as is being triggered by conscious or unconscious associations. Regaining appropriate mobility and relearning to gage sensation is essential to integrating the person’s sense of worth, power, hope and wholeness. Today, through yoga, breath, body scanning, engaging in inner dialogue, music, touch and vocal expression we will experience the delicate dance of how the body reintegrates through internal and external resources. Understanding how to process and self regulate your own system is a baseline requirement to holding compassionate space for your patients, because once that mirror is lifted, you become embodied equals.
Norman completed his B.A. at Yale University where he studied music and psychology, and was the recipient of a Mellon Fellowship for Research in Psychiatry. He completed his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at UCLA, where he was the recipient of an individual National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health to study the neurobiologic underpinnings of emotion recognition and understanding in Autism. Most recently he has been involved in a multi-site, longitudinal study of children and adolescents at risk for developing bipolar disorder.
In conjunction with his research, Norman has developed an expertise in treating and teaching about psychiatrically complex populations, multi-modal treatment, and diagnostic assessment. While rooted firmly in empirically supported approaches, he has incorporated practices emphasizing somatosensory integration and that draw from eastern and traditional medicine with our current knowledge of the neurobiologic and cognitive processes underlying anxiety, mood, trauma and eating disorders. He has endeavored to develop a clinical approach that focuses on the exploration of meaning as a path to healing and that honors an individuals’ own narrative and journey.
- Understanding that Fight/Flight/Freeze responses during trauma and stress ignite several high charge muscles and organs in the body: jaw, throat, scalenes, and sternocleidomastoid which affect the vocal cords and breath, hindering the ability to speak with confidence; as well as the shoulders, hands, arms, legs, pelvis and core which can leave a person feeling nauseous, weak, shameful, lifeless, dizzy and off balance. Through careful guidance, the patient will learn to slowly and mindfully activate these high charge areas in hopes to discharge any unfinished procedures that became immobilized in the past and reawaken the resilient power to persevere that still lives in these areas.
- Understanding that freezing/numbness is one of the most common protective symptoms of immobility from trauma. One important step to feeling “unstuck” is through the practice of “feeling.” Using movement that engages/contracts the body, as well as releases/unwinds the patient can explore a broad range of safe sensations that they are in control of. Because the brain naturally has a negative bias, through breathwork we will train the patient to take the extra time to scan the entire body landscape, which will allow the brain to acknowledge, label and file more than the initial negative sensation of judgment or fear. When the body is at ease, or in a more balanced parasympathetic state, “Union” or “Yoga” is created within the mind and body. When this happens, the patient is more receptive to feeling and tracking multiple sensations, many of which can be grounding and energizing. This process will slowly bring them out of numbness and into a safely contained feeling state.
- Understanding how to use internal and external resources. Resources are anything that can help you shift in a positive direction, such as people, beautiful landscapes, scent, music, poetry, or your pet. You can internally resource yourself by training the brain to scan the body and your surroundings for the good. “Where do I feel relaxed or supported in my body?” You can also be externally resourced by reminding yourself of a person who loves you unconditionally, or by remembering the way you felt when you took in that spectacular view at the top of a mountain you hiked. The essence of implicit memory is created through emotions and body sensations. The implicit memory becomes anchored and available for remembrance by the firing and wiring of neurons. This wiring process is ignited and solidified when we foster emotions, especially positive and empowering thoughts and sensations, and hold them close. The practice of resourcing can deepen our awareness to the good which will lock those positive memories into the hippocampus for much needed future reference.
*BHC Alhambra Hospital is approved by the California Psychological Association to provide continuing education for psychologists and maintains responsibility for this program and its content.