FEATURE — The impacts of trauma are experienced by every member of the human race.
Trauma is the lasting emotional response that can result from living through a difficult or distressing event. When we think of the word “trauma,” we often tend to associate it with big events: car accidents, abuse, violence or the death of a loved one. However, events that change the brain come in all shapes and sizes. It may sound silly, but under the wrong conditions, something as small as a child dropping an ice cream cone on the ground can leave a scar deep enough to change the way that child thinks and feels for years to come.
Traumas leave silent marks. More and more research shows that unresolved traumas often lead to depression, anxiety and unwanted behaviors. We find unresolved traumas hiding in our habits: overeating, drinking, drug use, too much screen time or patterns of attracting the same type of negative relationship. We find unresolved traumas trapped in our emotions, in cyclical negative feelings that we persistently seem to fall victim to despite our best efforts to change. We find unresolved traumas hiding in our bodies as aches, pains or autoimmune illnesses.
When strong negative emotions connect with an event, traumas are able to make impactful changes to the brain, rewiring neural pathways almost instantly. We can walk away from the scene and move on with our lives, but incorrectly processed trauma always leaves our brains with a big, unsettled question mark that keeps circling around and around, often subconsciously attracting us even further into the trauma in a variety of ways.
There are many methods of therapy available to manage trauma. I prefer hypnotherapy because of its efficiency at getting to the root of the trauma and its calming effects when an individual is dealing with a difficult topic. Whatever modality you feel comfortable using, there are two basic approaches to dealing with trauma, and what you know about the trauma will affect the direction you take.
If you can identify the trauma, you and your therapist can go straight to the source and begin to challenge the trauma and the changes that happened in the mind at the time of the occurrence. Because of the calming effects experienced while processing the uncomfortable event, hypnotherapy is a fantastic modality for this, but EMDR, ketamine and breath-work are also powerful tools to help you see the old experience through a new lens.
You will begin to deeply recognize and feel that though it happened, it is not happening any longer; though it happened, you have survived. You will also connect that trauma to other scenarios; have there been other events that have felt similar? You will notice how each of these events connect together, and you will be able to do the work to help the mind feel completely settled. In hypnotherapy, we help the mind form new neural pathways and integrate them to make it easier on the brain to function in a new, helpful way.
The more common method for dealing with trauma is starting with the symptom(s) of the trauma first. This is helpful when you don’t have a clear connection to an event. With this method, you will begin by working on the unwanted emotion, habit, relationship pattern or physical ailment that is a manifestation of the trauma. If you do this exploratory work by yourself, you’ll deeply focus on the feelings that come up when you think about the problem at its very worst. Then ask yourself, “When was the first time I felt this way?”
I am here to tell you that symptoms that cannot easily be traced to specific events usually arise from a time before the age of 8, when the mind has the most plasticity and is primed to create neural pathway programming. The issues that pop up for us today as adults and wreak havoc on our emotions usually stem from a negative program started decades ago that has been gaining traction ever since.
For those of you who are not big meditators, the answer to the question “When was the first time I felt this way?” may come quietly. Eventually, if you ask the question honestly to your subconscious mind, the answer will come. For a front-of-the-line pass, I use hypnotherapy to access the answer and help my clients discover the root of the trauma so that we can get the healing work started.
At times, as we deal with the symptoms of our trauma, we are led to the discovery of big events that have been suppressed in the mind. However, more often than not, what is typically found are moments that most people remember but have written off in their minds as “insignificant.” Many shifts in the brain boil down to seemingly small moments where strong emotion and an event combine to create a new way of thinking.
The case I wrote about at the beginning of this article – the child with an ice cream cone – is real. That little 6-year-old girl was already feeling like she was a failure and always doing things incorrectly when compared to her older siblings. Between the sadness she felt about losing her ice cream cone, the shame she felt when dad berated her for not holding her cone straight and the embarrassment she felt when her brother laughed at her, she internalized this message: “I’m always messing up and everyone thinks I’m stupid.”
She subconsciously carried this label from that moment forward, and because of the programming her brain accepted at the time, she continued to find herself in situations for decades that seemed to enforce that thought. As an adult, she didn’t remember the ice cream being part of the equation, of course. She came to my office to rid herself of an anxious feeling of inadequacy.
With hypnotherapy, we were able to help reprocess the events of that day. She wasn’t stupid; she was just 6 and had made a mistake! She could see herself as an intelligent, respectable member of the family, finally releasing herself from the feelings of inferiority she’d been experiencing her entire life.
If you have traumas, known or unknown, that may be lingering from your past, don’t wait to start the work. A happier, more peaceful life can be yours much sooner than you think.
Written by ERIN DEL TORO, Registered Clinical Hypnotherapist, ACHE.
This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 issue of St. George Health and Wellness magazine.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.