What is trauma?
When they hear the word “trauma,” many people think of major, more conventionally understood traumas. These include experiences like sexual and physical abuse, war, natural disasters, or a major car accident. Undoubtedly these events can be very traumatic— but trauma encompasses a wide range of other situations that can be just as detrimental to someone’s development, health, and happiness.
Trauma is essentially any situation that an individual felt severely overwhelmed in and did not have the support they needed to move through the experience in a healthy way. A healthy conclusion to a hardship occurs when an individual knows that the experience is over and that an unsafe, bad, or hard situation does not mean the world itself is an unsafe, bad, or hard place to live in. These traumatic events are especially impactful during childhood while the brain is still developing.
Difficult situations are inevitably a part of life, but experiencing them too soon or without adequate support can turn a challenging time into a lifetime of traumatic responses and all the associated problems we experience as a result. When the conclusion our subconscious draws from a hard situation is that “the world is an unsafe place,” we cultivate coping mechanisms that can be detrimental to our lives later on.
Some other examples of trauma include:
Complications during your birth
Having a dysregulated mother, parents, or carers that did not provide a consistent sense of safety in a baby and throughout early childhood
Being bullied, even just once
Witnessing parents argue chronically or divorce in a harsh way
Death of a pet, friend, parents, or family member
Growing up around a carer who had a chronic illness, health issue, or addiction
Individual instances that created shame, especially around aspects of yourself that you cannot control (like being made fun of for your race, height, or name)
Watching a scary movie at too young an age
Growing up in poverty or with financial instability
Abrupt or chronic relocations
How does trauma show up in life?
Emotions like anger, fear, rage, embarrassment, shame, guilt, or terror are a part of life. When we don’t learn to correctly complete the cycle of emotion that comes and passes as difficult situations come and go, they can lead to a dysregulated nervous system, and a wide range of coping mechanisms cultivated as survival mechanisms.
For example, two people may both experience their parents divorcing at a young age. The first child may be supported by their parents through the experience, by letting the child feel their emotions, by explaining that sometimes relationships don’t work out but that it doesn’t mean love is a bad or scary thing, and that both parents actively work to hold space for healthy dialogue and connection with one another and the child through the experience.
Another child may witness their parents divorce after years of arguing, be caught in the middle of bitter, resentful tension, and hear things like “wo/men can’t be trusted” or witness their parent’s bad mouth one another, break down, or rely on alcohol, drugs, or food to cope with the emotional turmoil.
Both children are likely to experience a hard time with the divorce because divorce is generally a painful experience for all involved in one way or another. The first child, however, is more likely to experience the pain as a relatively isolated instance and moving through the emotions in a supported environment. The second child is more likely to cultivate survival tactics to get through the experience since they did not receive the kind of support needed to feel safe, heard, seen, or loved adequately in such a situation. Such coping mechanisms could include ADD or ADHD, as a means to get distracted from the painful situation unfolding in front of them, it could involve addiction to any type of substance as a way to feel comfort, joy, and ease. It could also involve avoidant behaviours in romantic relationships in the future, as a way to protect their heart.
Although the painful divorce may have been 5, 10, 15, or 25 years prior, the now-adult may still be relying on these coping mechanisms if they have not taken the time to feel back the layers of emotional pain that needed to be felt back then. When our needs aren’t met, especially as children, we seek them from other sources. The behaviours we cultivate can often be despised as we grow older, but they served a purpose once upon a time, most often in giving the illusion of safety.
Our nervous systems play a big role in keeping us safe. Your nervous system is what alerts you that something dangerous may be near and releases an array of stress hormones to help you “fight or flee” from danger. This is a fantastic survival tool, but unfortunately, many people have dysregulation in their nervous systems due to trauma from the past.
When the body constantly experiences stress or is “stuck” in a sympathetic dominant mode, it is constantly releasing stress hormones that are detrimental to health and wellbeing. These include both physical and mental side effects like excess weight, poor sleep quality, anxiety, and depression. The side-effects of a dysregulated nervous system put a huge burden on life.
Another way trauma can show up in life is in your self-talk. That little voice inside your head, how does it speak to you? Is it kind or harsh? Many people find that they speak to themselves in a way that they would never use towards other people. Being particularly harsh about yourself is oftentimes cultivated as a response to trauma. When something bad happens to us that was never fully resolved, our psyche has two options: assume that the other person was wrong/ bad or that we are wrong/ bad. As children, it is too overwhelming to assume that our carers may have been wrong; this would suggest that we are not safe in the world. As a result, we often internalise the bad things that happen to us, assuming that we deserve them or caused them.
Finally, trauma-based coping mechanisms can show up in various ways, including self-sabotage, perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive behaviours, and addiction. All these behaviours are survival mechanisms. Although we may not like these habits anymore, they bring to us a sense of safety, control, joy, relaxation, and inner peace. We cultivate “bad” behaviours to help us survive a traumatic experience.
Can this work help me with addiction?
Absolutely. In fact, this work is directly rooted in the kind of trauma-healing work that naturally resolves addiction without any willpower or forcefulness. Gabor Maté defines addiction as “any behaviour that a person finds relief and therefore craves in the short-term, but suffers negative consequences in the long-term.” Therefore addiction can be understood as a beautiful gift that we rely on as a coping mechanism to survive hardship.
When you are ready to let go of your addictions, when you can see that the short-term gain is not worth the long-term suffering, we can explore the underlying emotional needs that were not met and allow you to feel your way back to wholeness. When the underlying trauma is given an opportunity to be felt in a safely held space, you can move through it very rapidly.
This process does not wipe the memory itself but removes the emotional charge associated with the event itself. If the traumatic event is the wound, the trauma-response addiction can be understood as the infection. Together we work to resolve the infection, so you can look back on your scar without any lingering pain.
How can I get rid of trauma-based responses?
Understanding that many of our “negative” behaviours that we cultivate over a lifetime are responses to trauma is truly liberating. This means that we don’t have to fight through willpower, but rather heal the underlying dysregulation.
Healing from trauma looks different for every person, but the modality I choose to use due to its extreme success is called Emotional Release Therapy.
What is Emotional Release Therapy?
Emotional Release Therapy (ERT) is a somatic-based approach, meaning it works from the body up. Unlike psychological approaches that focus on the mind-down (modalities like talk therapy), we do not need to know specifically what happened to you to address trauma as it shows up in your life.
Instead of focusing on the story behind the behaviours, we work directly with the body and the emotions as they present themselves. Again, trauma is not the difficult experience itself, but rather the resulting beliefs and behaviours generated by not being supported through the difficult experience. What I do with ERT is work with your body to provide a safe and supportive, nurturing space for you to feel what needs to be felt so that it can effectively move through you like a wave.
When we actually give our emotions a voice and allow them to exist, we can very quickly move through them. On the other hand, the more we suppress and deny what is coming up, the more we need to rely on external coping mechanisms like addiction or anxiety to protect ourselves from the world.
What is NeuroTraining Kinesiology?
I am also trained in NeuroTraining (NT) kinesiology, which is a modality I incorporate to help us do deeper work. Kinesiology is like the language to communicate with the body, and NeuroTraining is the process of unwinding the nervous system and retraining it to operate in a better way.
NeuroTraining kinesiology is a method that uses muscle checking to effectively communicate with the body, and see what is or isn’t serving a strengthening of the body’s neurology. Your neural pathways are the communication pathways between the brain and the muscles, so using kinesiology helps me tune in to the body’s needs and go deeper in areas that the logical mind may block.
Oftentimes we don’t actually know what’s getting in the way of our own well-being. Using kinesiology ensures that the experience is bio-individual and client-led. We actually communicate with your body’s wants, needs, and weaknesses by challenging the nervous system using kinesiology. From there I lean into Emotional Release Therapy to support you in feeling back the layers blocking you, or on NeuroTraining methods to actually reset, re-program, and cultivate better neurological options.
What if I don’t have trauma?
Many people think they have never experienced trauma. Some of the reasons include:
Suppression of memories as a protection mechanism
Because you were too young to remember
Because you don’t have any other reference point to what a regulated nervous system or a healthy response to difficult situations looks like
We don’t know any other life than our own, and for many, we assume that “this is how life is meant to look”. Although we cannot choose the situations that we are born into or the hardships we face, we can address the ways in which these situations have impacted us.
What is great about somatic (body-based) approaches to trauma is that you don’t actually need to recall any specific “traumatic” experience(s) to heal from them. Instead of digging to figure out if/ when you experienced a traumatic event, simply look at the symptoms of trauma.
Some of the symptoms of trauma include:
Self-destructive patterns like self-sabotage, perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive behaviours
Dissociation between mind and body (not knowing you you feel)
Over-thinking or constant rumination
Inability to stay present (dwelling on past or future, especially in a negative way)
Do you exhibit symptoms of trauma? If so, working with a somatic-based approach like ERT can help you resolve them without ever getting into the details of your past.
Do I need to know why I feel a certain way or what I need to let go of to come to see you?
Absolutely not! Oftentimes our stories about why we feel or what we need to do to resolve our problems are inaccurate. You don’t need to come to a session with any expectations, stories, or agendas— other than knowing that something in your life is not adding up, and you would like to reconnect with yourself in a deeply authentic and healing way.
Do you work with children?
Yes! This work is particularly effective with children who are much more receptive since their neural pathways are still developing. With children, I lean into much more play, using tools like crystals and imagination. We discuss emotions and fears, uncomfortable feelings, which support their ability to set healthy boundaries and cultivate a strong sense of self-worth from a young age.
Do you work online too?
Absolutely, my clients live all over the world, and we can arrange a session through Zoom, FaceTime. Working remotely can make the process easier for some, by being in the comfort of their own homes. Others prefer in-person sessions, which I facilitate from my office in Sydney, Australia.
How can I prepare for a session?
I recommend you avoid stimulants or depressants on the day of your appointment. Substances like caffeine or alcohol disrupt your natural emotional state and interfere with your ability to see and feel yourself authentically. We will be working with your emotions or lack of emotional awareness, so being very clear and present is essential.
If your session is online, you will also need:
A quiet space (note that it is best for you to be totally alone in your home, if possible, so that you can express yourself without filter or worry that anyone else will interrupt or overhear)
A hands-free video device showing your head and upper body
Water or decaffeinated beverage
All is provided if your session is in person.
If your sessions are in person, you will also be supported by Prin, the in-house therapy dog. Prin is a hypoallergenic, non-shedding Lhasa Aspo. She can provide an extra anchor of support to your nervous system to help you co-regulate and eventually learn to self-regulate your emotions.
How many sessions will I need?
With every session, your body will be creating new neural pathways, thanks to the disconfirming experience we create. These are experiences that teach your nervous system a new way of operating. It helps unwind patterns and beliefs by teaching your brain that the beliefs it has been holding onto (generally due to a traumatic experience) are no longer applicable today.
Having a course of sessions reasonably close together (every week or second week) to begin helps speed up these new neural pathways and really reinforce them, you will feel a difference. When you feel ready, we can move to monthly meetings.
I will also provide you with tools to learn to self-regulate while experiencing the waves of emotions associated with daily life. Not all “waves” are equal, so the more we work together, the deeper we can explore more difficult, nuanced, or suppressed emotions and situations (the bigger waves). This will solidify and strengthen the new pathways and beliefs.
How can I book a session?
You can book in for a session by clicking on the book now in the menu bar. If you do have any other questions please get in touch by filling out a form on the ‘Contact’ page or by e-mailing Sommer.firstname.lastname@example.org.