Over the past ten years, I’ve worked with thousands of people suffering from trauma and a question that I am constantly asked is, “I know I’m not in danger anymore, so why doesn’t my body believe me?”
You may be wondering why it is so hard for your body to let go of painful experiences, even though they are no longer happening. After all, the past is the past, right? So why are you still sweating, shaking and getting a dry mouth every time you are reminded of the scary and dangerous things that happened to you?
In order to understand why it’s so difficult for your body to let go of a painful past, let’s review some of what I shared in a previous blog about the way we process information: Humans process things on cognitive, emotional and somatic levels. In other words, you experience reality through your mind, your feelings and your body sensations. As I said earlier, effective trauma treatment needs to address all three levels of your experience.
Bottom-Up and Top-Down Processing
In addition to these three levels of experience, you also have two primary directions in which information gets processed. We call these two primary directions “bottom-up” and “top-down.” Bottom-up processing relates to the somatic and feeling levels of your experience. Feelings and body sensations are stored in the deeper parts of your brain, which is why it may seem sometimes that these things “bubble up” from deep within your experience. The parts of your brain that register your feelings and body sensations have been around since very early in the evolution of our species. These lower parts of the brain provide the foundation upon which the higher formal, thinking parts of your brain can function.
Top-down processing is initiated by the higher part of your brain, called the neocortex. This is the part of your brain that monitors and regulates what is going on, and can often guide the lower parts of your brain. For instance, if you are feeling sad because you got ghosted by a new friend, the neocortex is the part of your brain that can help you overcome the sad feelings. It tells you, “It’s okay. There are plenty of other people out there.” You may notice that you are able to make yourself feel better, that you perk up and your body relaxes. This is an example of your neocortex effectively used a supportive belief to help yourself recover on a feeling and body level.
Positive Thinking Is Not Enough to Heal Trauma
The problem with trauma is that it tends to make the lower parts of the brain (body and feelings) go haywire, while simultaneously disabling the higher cognitive part of the brain. Basically, you end up with a whole lot of emotion and sensation and very little ability to manage what is going on. You can’t just tell yourself to feel differently, or focus on the positive, or rationalize away your experience. As the famous 17th century French philosopher, Blaise Pascal said,
“The heart has a reason that reason knows not of.”
When it comes to trauma, the same is true of the body. The heart and body have their own logic and language. If you want to address the source of the trauma, you need to learn how to allow your body and emotions to digest and assimilate what has happened to you on their own terms. No amount of trying to reason, rationalize or distract yourself from what is really going on is going to help you overcome trauma.
You Can Find Freedom and Joy
If you are suffering from a trauma—whether it be a single event, or years of neglect and abuse—and you want to move on to live a life of freedom and joy, let’s connect on the phone so I can help you meet your goals much faster.
You can contact me at the number below.
Or, when you are ready to start treatment, set up your free 30-minute consultation by clicking on the orange Schedule Now button below.
I look forward to hearing from you soon!
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