Trauma and Health
We recently watched a video seminar about trauma presented by neurologist Dr. Robert Scaer. I’m going to take the time to attempt to summarise his groundbreaking work as presented in this video.
I’m going to do this because it contains some revolutionary insights into the origin and nature of many mysterious illnesses which plague our culture, and I believe that the more people are aware of his game-changing theory, the greater the chance we all have to heal at a fundamental level.
His work centers on the physiology of trauma, and especially at the core of things, the brain.
However, before we can launch into this topic, it’s helpful to get a basic idea of what the brain’s autonomic nervous system does, because this is where it is all happening.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into two sections, the Sympathetic and the Parasympathetic.
In it’s normal function the Sympathetic upregulates homeostasis (or balance) to an active phase, such as waking up in the morning, while the Parasympathetic downregulates the nervous system to allow for resting and digesting to take place.
The Sympathetic system in deep arousal triggers the familiar flight/fight response and in this state one experiences such responses as anxiety, phobias, muscular bracing, panic, tremor, pain, rapid heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, dry mouth, and cold hands.
The Parasympathetic deep state on the other hand, causes symptoms in the gut, cramps, diarrhea, indigestion, fatigue, weakness and collapse, numbing, slow heartbeat, constriction and cognitive dulling.
A major nerve, called the Vagus nerve runs from the brainstem to all the visceral organs of the chest and gut. This is the means and pathway by which the brainstem affects all those areas.
Now normal life usually involves a gentle cycling through sympathetic to parasympathetic in a mild sort of manner. However, once traumatized, an individual may cycle through these states in an extreme fashion.
So what is a trauma exactly, and how does it occur?
A trauma occurs when a threat to life happens (that is, your Sympathetic nervous system is in flight or fight mode) in a state of helplessness. Helpless means you can’t run or fight, there’s just no way out. This triggers a freeze response, which happens in a state of deep Parasympathetic tone.
This is one in which pain killing, numbing endorphins are released, immobility occurs, and possibly a state of dissociation also happens, mediated by the opiate-like endorphins in the brain. Dissociation means you split off a part of you, and see it as not belonging to you.
When this trauma occurs while trying to run away or fight, then the overall effect is that the animal or individual will cycle between a freeze collapse (Parasympathetic) and trembling, shaking, rapid breathing (Sympathetic). These two states are extremes in bimodal cycling, and present very unstable condition.
In many animals there is a way to discharge this freeze state physiologically, utilizing deep breathing. Humans, along with many other domesticated animals, don’t generally discharge the freeze response in this manner. So the trauma is held in the system, and the life-threat messages are kept alive and active in the unconscious.
The final result of this stored trauma energy is the inability to appropriately respond to further threats, an ability called ‘resiliency’. Having lost resiliency an individual then easily becomes vulnerable to any number of emotional and physical illnesses. What’s more, they will continue to experience pain and illnesses their entire lifetime, until the trauma is dissipated!
Part 2 of Trauma and Health