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How The Body Holds Onto Trauma

Updated: May 25, 2022

"Trauma robs you of the feeling that you are in charge of yourself." - Bessell Van Der Kolk, M.D.

People who have experienced trauma have psychological and physical symptoms that last far beyond the event. The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. uses recent scientific studies to show how trauma changes the body and the brain limiting the sufferer's ability to experience pleasure, engage with others, use self-control, and trust. They are kept in a perpetual state of fight or flight impacting their health and their relationships.

The Long-term Impacts of Trauma
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Trauma is more common than you might think. Approximately 5 out of every 10 women and 6 out of every 10 men will experience some form of trauma in their life. (How Common Is PTSD in Adults? (n.d.). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs).

The Body Keeps the Score; explains how traumatic events impact people well after the experience through triggers and flashbacks that cause people to relive the mental and physical experiences of the actual event.

The author explains that non-traumatic memories fade and change, while traumatic memories are vivid, unchanging, and easily triggered. Van Der Kolk demonstrates the difference between these two memories. When people recall important non-traumatic events like their wedding day or the birth of a child, they speak about their feelings and emotions but not about detailed descriptions of what someone's hair looked like or the cologne someone was wearing. Whereas when people describe traumatic events, they can recall very vivid details about the people and surroundings of the experience. The author gives the example of a woman who had been raped and how the scent of alcohol triggered the memory of the event, which led her to stop attending parties.

In addition to reliving traumatic experiences, Van Der Kolk, M.D. says that when people are re-experiencing these events, the parts of the brain that control their rational thought process and their ability to speak are shut down. They also release higher stress hormone levels than people who have not experienced trauma, which has long-term health implications for vulnerable systems within an individual's body.

According to the Mayo Clinic (Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - Symptoms and causes. (2018, July 6). Mayo Clinic), people who suffer from trauma have negative changes to their thinking and their mood. Symptoms include: