When a person has been exposed to violence, it is a life changing experience. Feeling like your life (or the life of a loved one) is threatened can turn your life upside down. Dangerous situations turn on an important part of our brain called the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response helps us identify danger and respond so we can stay alive. That means when your brain perceives a threat, it begins to prepare to fight, to flight (run), or to freeze.
Traumatized people may start to feel like they are on high alert all the time, have trouble sleeping, become easily agitated, have suicidal thoughts, and even a sense of a foreshortened future. These individuals can experience all of the fear, helplessness, and physical responses of the original incident, over and over again. Anything that reminds their brain of the original event can trigger these flashbacks. Triggers can include sights, sounds, smells, sensations, feelings, touches, etc. Because the fight or flight response is often not being controlled by the conscious part of your brain, a person can be unaware of what is triggering them and how to stop it.
A person exposed to war, violence, sexual assault, car accidents, or other dangerous experiences can be affected. Every time they relive the event, their body is readying them for fighting or running. The person often tries to avoid any discussion or reminders of the event to try to get these triggers to stop- but it often won’t work because they don’t actually know what is triggering them. They may even start avoid people they care about, or start to self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, food, or gambling.
Healing from these old experiences can allow a person to stop reliving the violence, end physiological responses that prepare them for violence unnecessarily, and become more present in their community. There are many options available to heal based on how long ago the trauma happened, how many traumas a person has experienced, and how severe the trauma was.
Self-care can often be the first step in healing. When stressed, people can sometimes abandon their old healing strategies. Reconnecting with what works and taking time to do things that have helped you heal in the past can be quite powerful. At the same time, if this current issue overwhelms your usual strategies, you are not alone, trauma is hard, and it is not your fault if you need to try something new.
Energy healing modalities may be successful with mild trauma symptoms. This can include massage therapy, Reiki, Cranial Sacral and other energy modalities. In fact, Reiki, power-walks, and yoga were paired together in a program working with soldiers. They found that soldiers took half the medication that would normally be prescribed when including these practices. Most of these have little risk and can have other healing benefits, even if they don’t move someone to full healing.
Emotional Freedom Techniques can be successful as a self-help or guided resource. It pairs tapping of acupressure points with positive self-statements and people have reported powerful results. Easy to read books like “The Tapping Cure” are available, but there is also a great deal of free information and instruction available at www.emofree.com Most find some relief from symptoms, some find complete and permanent relief. This intervention has been studied on a limited basis with post-deployment veterans with initial positive results.
Clinical hypnosis can sometimes be used to reduce the symptoms of PTSD, and they have found that people who have PTSD are easy to hypnotize. This can put you into a relaxed state and help you begin to change your thoughts about the experience. There is limited research that shows the effectiveness of hypnosis alone for full healing of PTSD symptoms.
Cognitive behavioral therapy helps people to identify the negative thoughts and emotions and replace them with more true self-statements. There are several books available for self-help. A great book that helps replace old negative thoughts with more true beliefs while reviewing all the options for healing is “Healing from Trauma: A Survivor's Guide to Understanding Your Symptoms and Reclaiming Your Life.”
Many can complete the process of changing their thought patterns on their own if they are focused, motivated, and their symptoms are mild. When symptoms are more severe, professional assistance can be powerful. Look for a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), or Psychologist with trauma expertise.
Bilateral stimulations (SB) can provide relief. SB can include sounds, tapping, or eye movements that require the activation of the left and right portions of your brain. Going for a walk in the woods can access SB naturally, while the ocean naturally produces SB. SB music including “UpLevel” can be purchased from Amazon. People will often report a great relief through pairing meditation with this special kind of music, although little research has been done to confirm reports. Again, with more chronic symptoms you made need support.
At a professional level, bilateral stimulation is included in EMDR. EMDR has been found to provide permanent relief from symptoms in fewer sessions or with less outside homework than other therapies. It has been approved for use at the Veterans Administration. For complicated or chronic trauma, this is the treatment of choice. People who have been through traditional talk therapy unsuccessfully are often amazed at the progress they can make with this type of therapy. Again, a LMFT, LCSW or psychologist can administer EMDR.
This is just a brief overview of the impact of trauma on living peacefully and some options for healing. I hope that this article give you an overview view of trauma, its symptoms and their impact on living in peace, and available treatments, so you can get healing yourself or be a support to someone else that is ready to heal. People do not have to suffer forever, there are many options available based on a person’s unique needs and preferences.