The localisation of trauma in the body

Somatic healing focuses on re-connecting body and mind to heal past traumas, which is luckily all the rage right now. For far too long I never made the connection between the alienation of my body and the estrangement of my thoughts.
A recent post by nervous system expert Irene Lyon further connects specific traumas to body parts: for example, past dental stress might result in jaw clenching and teeth grinding further down the line.
As much as this seems sense, I wonder whether I am retroactively finding reasons for body aches?

“The bodies of traumatized people portray “snapshots” of their unsuccessful attempts to defend themselves in the face of threat and injury. Trauma is a highly activated incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time. “
– Peter A. Levine

A lot of trauma-releasing methods involve physical softening: yoga, massages, stretching.
This follows from repressed trauma culminating in a tensing muscles, not just momentarily, but trapping this energy over time. Lyon argues that if we had to hold back speaking back to an abusive parent for instance, this unreleased energy remains stored in our neck and jaw.
This does make sense when looking at nature. In the wild, animals literally shake off trauma, getting rid of excess stress to then go about their lives.
When did humans unlearn this behaviour?

“Beliefs are physical. A thought held long enough and repeated enough becomes a belief. The belief then becomes biology.”
– Marilyn Van Derbur

As always, I blame capitalism. Sitting still to work, cramming as many productive hours into the week, living in small city flats, all of this is not conducive to allowing the body to heal.
It’s the internalisation of these values that has accumulated in our current mental health crisis.
We give past traumas meanings, and find verification of this belief in the world around us which is not build to host animals (apart from worker bees).
Trauma pertaining to body parts such as wide hips, large noses, dark skin or other stigmatised, meaning-fueled areas are reinforced daily.

The “normal” body is a statistical model based on imperialist data, and not the healthy ideal to strive to.

The medicalisation of body aches has categorised humans into abnormal deviants and normal bodies. When visiting a practitioner, they will go by a list of symptoms to find what best describes your condition. Past stressors, ethnic background, current traumas, the world we live in – all of these factors are lost in favour of a checklist.
You have jaw pain? Sounds like TMJ, let’s try these pills or these braces. I have found that this approach strives for treatment, but offers no cure. Changing the environment in which you are forced to bite your tongue might help long-term, when medicine might only shift the stored stress to a different body part.

What came first – the trauma or the pain?

Often, a diagnosis itself is treatment for aches.
Being told that the experienced pain is real, acknowledge and recorded, can heal the belief that we are broken and abnormal. Many people with ADHD face this shift in people’s perception of their struggles.
If there wasn’t such a reliance on labels, on documentation and officialisation – would people suffer less silently and alone? Instead of fighting through chronic fatigue because nothing showed up on their blood tests, could people and their employers allow themselves respite to heal?

“In this study, people who reported having dissociative symptoms were also quite likely to develop persistent somatic symptoms for which no physical cause could be found. “
– Judith Lewis Herman

But before finding treatment or being diagnosed with a particular condition, one must first be aware of this pain. People with trauma often dissociated from their bodies, and are not even conscious of a consistently clenched jaw, hunched shoulders or chronic stomach ache. Sitting within the body feels dangerous.
And how do we find refuge in ourselves? I found that meditation, gentle movement and art has been helpful. If you find these, in particular meditation difficult, you might want to check out this blog post on it.
How was your journey been with reconnecting to your body, and reparenting yourself through it?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Website Powered by

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: