The trauma and the body

Prof. Delia Duccoli
Prof. Delia Duccoli

Article written by Prof. Delia Duccoli

“Frequently the victims of trauma have symptoms instead of memories” (K. Harbey 1990) it’s the reason why often therapies and attempts of helping based only upon the words shows limits in the care.

Insomnia, physic symptoms without an organic base, dependences, ruminations, general anxiety, activation and dissolution of the emotions or emotive distance sometimes are the only signals of traumas suffered in the course of life and never understood.

There are different kind of traumas, little, called trauma with the lowercase “t” and big Trauma, with the capital letter “T”. The great disasters are traumas, like earthquakes, like fire, like suffering an abuse, diseases, or invasive surgical interventions. The word Trauma can also be referred to a series of adverse events or periods of carelessness, as in some Traumas of the attachment happened in the childhood where no explicit memory is conserved.

We can also have the Vicarial Trauma, a trauma experienced by whom is close to person who experiences the Trauma: relatives, partners, friends, caregivers who takes care of the traumatised person, sometimes suffering the same reactions.

Which adverse event turns into a trauma, with the lowercase or upper-case letter, depends also by the individual and by the subjective experience that someone lives. Not everybody that is exposed to a trauma is being traumatized, a lot depends by the actions that someone could use to defend oneself, react and assimilate the event in their existence.

Indeed Trauma is defined by OMS and by international literature like a unique experience, individual, of an event or a group of events in which the ability of the person to assimilate their emotive experience lacks: this is the ability of getting awareness, understand what is happening, assimilate emotions and give a sense to the experience.

The traumatic situation is the one that it’s been detected like a threat to the security, to the survival and stimulates the subcortical animal defensive responses, of fight, flight, and freezing, up to apparent death and foster the hyper or hypo arousal, an excessive activation or a freezing of the physiological activation. The perception of the threat came not only through a cognitive judgement, a rational and objective decision, but also through physical and physiological feelings and impulses. Physical feelings and impulses actually anticipate the cognitive and emotive perception.

The body remembers old traumas and it’s like if the feeling of threat tends to persist in a modified and exaggerated mode a long time after that the real threat is gone. Body reactivates the defences in front of signals apparently distant from the traumatic situation, when a sound or a noise it’s heard, when gestures and innocuous behaviours are seen. Even if sometimes the memory it’s vague and archived, the implicit memories, like the somatic, the sensorial and the emotive memories keep tracking.

Body and mind are parts that continually interacts, they are like “intertwined” in the human organism and the comprehension of how all our experience is registered in the body allows us to communicate with the conscious and unconscious mind through corporeal experiences, integrating top-down ways (from thoughts to the emotions to the body) with bottom up ways (from corporeal feelings to the emotions to the thoughts).

When the body is evaluated like a source of intelligence, of memories, of data, we can find in any significant corporeal experiences a mental emotive and spiritual element. Going through good physical sensations, stimulating sensorial activities, getting closer to artistic expressions like the theatre, music, dance, painting, sculpture are some of the protective ways that facilitate, particularly for people that experienced traumas, the integration of emotions, the regulation of physiological activation and the ability of focus upon the present.

Art is a powerful help to integrating those parts dissociated  from our conscious selves, since the sorrow or physical pain  of Trauma tries to take  away from our awareness.

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