A Wound to the Body, Soul and Spirit - Phases of Trauma and Steps to Overcome it.
Blog article by Mary Ruud, Milwaukee, USA
Trauma has existed as long as humankind on earth.
Wars, violence and natural disasters are all part of our shared history, yet therapies for trauma only began to be developed in Western medicine in the1980’s when post-traumatic stress disorder began to be officially diagnosed. Now nearly all therapists, and teachers, have training to deal with trauma.
- Trauma can affect whole groups of people such as in earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and tornados, international disasters that in our time are increasing.
- It can be passes generationally such as in family abuse.
- It can be suffered in groups and be multigenerational such as in the Holocaust, the attempted extermination of indigenous people or American slavery.
- Prejudice and unfair social systems can perpetuate ongoing trauma.
Leading researchers working in trauma[i] agree that all trauma has a physiological effect. Trauma is understood as affecting body and soul, and that the trauma can lodge itself in the physical body. Mindful meditation, massage, yoga, exercise and tai chi are all suggested as part of the healing process.
Four phases of trauma reactions
Bernd Ruf, Bernd Ruf head of the emergency education outpatient clinic at the Parzival Competence Center in Karlsruhe distinguishes between four phases in the course of trauma reactions. [ii]
First, the acute phase, the emergency. This is shock and lasts a few seconds to days. Physical symptoms can be shaking, nausea, sweating, chills, hyperventilation, urge to urinate or soil oneself, hyperactivity or torpor. Loss of sense of time and loss of awareness of space occur. One can feel separated from one’s own body.
Second, a post-traumatic stress reaction. This is still an acute phase and lasts about a week or more. Headaches, back tension, eating and digestion difficulties, memory problems, guilt and shame, panic attacks, anger and aggression or social withdrawal. The immune system is weakened and a susceptibility to infections can occur. In this phase a person tries to heal himself, these are normal reactions to abnormal experiences. As the trauma is processed stress reactions occur less and less and can disappear. Emergency pedagogy is not therapy but a pedagogical “first aid” and focuses on the second stage of trauma, the post-traumatic stress reaction.
Third, post-traumatic stress disorder. If problems stay or get worse the person has a trauma related disorder. Each symptom can develop into its own disorder, depression, anxiety disorder, sleep disorders, motor problems, and impulse control difficulty. The symptoms arise from stimuli, or triggers, which bring back memories of the stressful experiences. Any sense experience can trigger overpowering memories putting a person back into the shock phase. The emotional skin is riddled with holes. The vital power does not permeate the physical organization enough. A child then makes a great effort to further his development, to overcome his gentle small child consciousness, and to reach a free imaginative power with linear consciousness. Massive learning difficulties can be the result.
Fourth step, lasting personality disorders. Chronic post-traumatic eventually leads to personality changes. Social isolation, self-harm and violence can develop. “The biography threatens to break apart.” There can be long stretches of normalcy, although the disorders may reappear years later.
Trauma from a developmental point of view.
Damage from trauma manifests differently when it occurs at various stages of life. The ability to cope with trauma depends on biological, emotional and social maturity.
Between birth and seven years of age trauma experiences primarily harm the connection between the physical and etheric, or life body. The metabolic limb system is especially affected. It is important to strengthen the fundamental senses in the child, touch, life, movement and balance, through imitation and rhythmic activities.
The second life period, seven to fourteen years old, trauma especially affects the relationship of the life body to the soul, or astral body and the rhythmic system. All artistic activity can have a healing effect.
In the third development period, puberty and adolescence, trauma especially affects the relationship of the soul, or astral body, to the sense of self, the Ego or I. The astral body could enter too deeply into the metabolic limb system or does not connect sufficiently. Social activities, clear thinking and working with ideals help here.
The exploration of trauma will continue
As manifestations of trauma emerge, a person can be uncomfortable, in unexpected pain or unpredictable reactions. In Eurythmy we have the objectivity and universality of the sounds themselves to offer a protective influence. We have rhymical patterns to begin to restore natural rhythms, consonants to rebuild damaged structures and vowels to move and begin to release memories stored in feeling life.
The exploration of trauma will continue, e.g in the Eurythmy4you Online Conference on Post-traumatic Growth. An international panel of speakers and workshop leaders share what they have discovered or how they themselves have had to deal with overcoming trauma.
Article by Mary Ruud for the Newsletter of ATHENA Association for Therapeutic Eurythmy in North America. Picture: Trauma patient practicing at Lake Michigan.
[i] Van der Kolk, MD. The Body Keeps the Score, Brain, Mind and Body in the Healing of Trauma
Peter Levine Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma
Remsaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands, Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies
Stephen W. Porges, The Polyvagal Theory, Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachments, Communication, Self-Regulation