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How Trauma Manifests On A Cellular Level

Updated: Dec 9, 2020

Published on July 13, 2018 by David Scourfield

Emotional Trauma is often overlooked

It’s a lot easier to treat physical trauma than emotional and psychological trauma. Physical trauma is treated by medical doctors and hospitals but trauma on the emotional and psychological level is much more obscure and difficult to identify.

Historically, we just “get on with it” and our mental self-protection devices do the best they can to help us. But the truth is that emotional and psychological trauma can make us physically sick, on a cellular level.

Trauma can shape us in many ways

Emotional memories of traumatic life events are stored in the brain with anger, grief, worry, stress and fear often associated with them. Research has now shown that emotional memories, both positive and negative, leave strong impressions on our brains and therefore effect our behaviour.

This is demonstrated by a link between processes in the cell nucleus and the release of the enzyme calcineurin, which determines the intensity of emotional memories.

Emotional and psychological trauma, often called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), extreme stress, or just simply dealing with human nature needs treatment and care just as much as the physical body does.

Often we are adept at dealing with trauma but we sometimes can’t treat it until we reach a crisis, a breakdown or illness and can’t continue. Active memories of a trauma remain locked and can cause blockages until a “trigger” occurs.

Victims of trauma can enter an altered state of reality, sometimes called disassociation.

Survival skills are learnt as we go

The limbic system, which regulates survival behaviour as well as emotion and memory can often freeze as an instinctual survival response. The freeze response influences memory processing which is why trauma victims sometimes don’t remember events until later or they experience a trigger.

Untreated trauma can negatively impact the victim’s sense of safety and trust and sense of worth.

A clinical study by Van Der Kolk of the Trauma Centre concluded that survivors of childhood trauma were predisposed to more difficulties with long-term relationships in society and that unresolved trauma victims were more likely to develop lifestyle diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, liver disease and skeletal fractures.

In Van Der Kolk’s pioneering book The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, he identifies the paradox of how trauma survivors often struggle to connect with other people and yet it is solidarity with other people that is the thing they most need in order to regain psychoemotional solidity and begin healing.

“Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard. Angry people live in angry bodies. The bodies of child-abuse victims are tense and defensive until they find a way to relax and feel safe. In order to change, people need to become aware of their sensations and the way that their bodies interact with the world around them. Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.”– The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

There can be physical effects to trauma

Emotion is energy in action and the emotion from the past trauma continues to live inside the survivor’s body. When our emotions are constantly negative and attached to past trauma, this can block the healthy flow of energy within the body and sometimes create an environment for disease to exist and develop. Holding onto to negative emotions in the cellular memory will cause physical and psychological distress.

A good way to visualise this is my looking at the effects our thoughts have on the cellular structure of water.

Dr. Masuru Emoto attempted to photograph the influence that words, sentences, sounds and thoughts had on water and found that it changed the aesthetic appearance of ice crystals, depending on whether the words or thoughts are positive or negative. The implications of this is since the human body is 70% water then the influence we have over our own energy flows and harmony is immense.

We all know the metaphor “your body is your temple” or “you are what you eat”, well, here at Trauma Release Centre we have expanded on that with a quote from Carl Jung: “I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become”.

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