April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. In honor of this month, I spent some time exploring the impacts of trauma on our bodies. This is a topic near and dear to my heart as a trauma survivor and a therapist who works with trauma survivors. I love this definition of trauma by Dr. Gabor Maté in episode 79 of the Therapy Chat podcast:
Trauma is not what happens externally. So trauma is not the sexual abuse. Trauma is not the being hit with the belt. Trauma is not watching somebody close to you be murdered. That’s not what the trauma is. Trauma is what happens inside of you as the result of that event. And what happens inside you, is that you experience all kinds of emotions, such as rage, such as terror, such as fear, such as grief, and that then changes you. They change you because in order to deal with those difficult emotions, which are responses to life events, we have to be able to feel those emotions and express them. When these events occur in an environment where a child has no capacity to express herself, to be heard, to be seen, validated, and soothed, then those emotions become frozen in the body and the brain, basically. So the trauma is the freezing of emotions.
Trauma is more prevalent in our society than I like to think. According to the Take Back the Night website, “1 in 3 women worldwide experience some form of sexual violence or intimate partner violence. 1 in 6 men experience sexual violence. Less than 50% of victims report these crimes.” A study by Dr. Dean Kilpatrick and colleagues in 2013 found that 89.7% of the 2,953 individuals surveyed were exposed to a traumatic event sometime in their lifetime. I think we need to change how we think and talk about trauma from this rare thing that happens to someone else to something that will happen to us or our loved ones in our lifetime. It’s a part of being human.
Dr. Maté makes a compelling case about how our physical and mental health problems such as cancer, ADHD, multiple sclerosis, and addiction may be to related to trauma experienced by the person or trauma experienced across generations. In episode 75 of Therapy Chat, David Emerson, a yoga teacher who works with Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk (a well known psychiatrist for his research on PTSD), talks about the use of yoga in healing trauma in the body. Want to know more? Check out the books by these authors below.
One take-away for me from these podcasts is to be more aware of how my body communicates with me. Those aches and pains say so much more than I give them credit for. I want to listen and understand what my body has to say about trauma and healing. I can do this by practicing yoga or just taking some quiet time every day to ask myself, “What am I feeling in my body right now?”
How do you practice body awareness?