August 27, 2010 by Thriving Now

Sara’s Trauma Story

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Sara had a pretty normal, healthy childhood. Her parents mostly were available and loving. She wasn’t abused. She lived in a nice neighborhood and had friends she really liked. She did well in school. You wouldn’t expect her to need to know about Trauma Relief.

But Sara does have some trauma. Some early experiences are “stuck” in her primitive brain… and these hold her back and keep her from feeling as alive and connected as she wants to be as an adult.

Let’s look at one of these little t traumas

When she was three, Sara was very excited about a painting she had made. The colors and energy of her painting made her feel very happy. She was so proud of her efforts and wanted to share it with Mommy.

She ran over to show her mother, who unbeknownst to Sara had just had a bad fight with Sara’s father. “Mommy, Mommy, look at what I did!!” Sara’s mother was normally encouraging, but on this day, she spoke sharply to Sara, and told her “Calm down, and stop making a big deal about everything! And look at the paint you got all over the floor!”

Sara’s primitive brain reacted to her mother’s words. She was not accustomed to an angry mother. This felt strange and frightening. The survival part of her brain knew that having a caring and loving mother was MUCH safer than an angry and frustrated one. Because Sara hadn’t experienced this type of situation before, she was confused and unsure of herself. She didn’t know what to do.

Her primitive brain went through its three options when safety is compromised: Flight, Fight, or Freeze. What would it be?

Flight: Where would she go? Who would protect her if she fled? She needed her mother and running away would make Mom even madder.

Fight: Not a good idea. Mom was already mad… and lots bigger! No way to win.

Freeze: No other choice! It’s what we do when flight or fight are rejected by our primitive brain. So… Sara froze.

(Please note that Sara’s mom didn’t do anything terrible. She certainly didn’t mean to hurt her child! And there may not have been obvious clues that her daughter was traumatized.)

Remember, what seems trivial or minor to an adult can seem life-threatening to a child. A child doesn’t have the personal survival resources or understanding of human nature adults do, and children also have a lot less experience handling such emotionally charged situations.

Of course, not every child will deal with a given problem in the same way. The primitive brain’s reaction is influenced by the child’s stage of growth and development, and some children are more sensitive than others (which is okay…). On a different day, who knows… Sara might have shrugged it off, and it wouldn’t have effected Sara’s future much at all. But on this day, part of her became very frightened.

Because this situation was interpreted as a threat, Sara’s primitive brain stored all the environmental clues it could: room temperature, the smell of dinner cooking, the lawn mower in the neighbors yard, what her mother was wearing… all were stored. Any emotions or prior activities that might have caused the “danger” were stored as well. What were some of those?

– She was painting.
– She was feeling happy and proud.
– She was excited about what she created.
– She wanted to share her creation with someone she loved.
– She ran.
– Her mother was scowling.

Now, not all traumas stay unresolved. If the person can discharge the trauma by shaking or running or fixing the problem, they unfreeze. They might also unfreeze if they talk can about it honestly and feel comforted and supported. And sometimes, over time, other experiences allow the trauma to resolve and the intensity to go away. (This is where the expression “Time heals all wounds” comes from. It’s just not always true….)

When someone “unfreezes,” it starts an evaluation process between the primitive brain and our “rational mind” (the cognitive brain). The cognitive brain decides what is relevant for well-being and discards the rest. In this case, it would probably decide that “mom scowling” might be something to stay away from, and that being careful not to drip paint all over is a good thing. Trauma resolved, and we go on with our lives with some new knowlege.

Let’s go back to Sara. As a child, Sara stayed frozen. Because of that unresolved trauma, she’s being affected by it as an adult. So let’s look at what happened and how we might bring relief now…

Sara’s mom didn’t notice anything wrong… Sara was just really quiet. Because her mother needed to resolve the previous fight with her husband (and clean up the paint), she gave Sara a quick dinner in the kitchen and then put her to bed without the usual story. Feeling isolated and punished reinforced her fear of losing love and support. Her body wanted to cry and shake and sob to discharge the trauma… but of course, Big Girls Don’t Cry.

The primitive brain has the intelligence of a small dog. It does its best, but it doesn’t have the same capabilities as the cognitive brain. As it is sorting through the “causes” of the “terrible thing,” it latches onto the energy that felt most intense to Sara at the moment of trauma. She was creative and proud and excited. The primitive brain decides that was the cause of the dangerous problem.

Don’t do that again!!!

Anytime Sara feels creative and full of energy, her primitive brain derails her… and will continue to do so until the trauma is discharged. Why? It isn’t safe!

In its attempts to keep her safe at all costs, the primitive brain can use images stored in her memory bank. She might hear a derogatory voice yelling in her head, “Look at what you did!”

Or, she might find that she thinks she isn’t capable, not smart enough to be creative, and she shouldn’t enjoy it. After awhile, she learns to avoid those situations that make her feel bad. She does very well in school, but struggles in creative writting and art. She finds a job that is challenging and intellectual but doesn’t require a lot of original self-expression. Overall, she is quite happy and fulfilled, but this fear does take some energy to avoid and sometimes she is a bit bored. She feels stifled for some inexplicable reason.

Let’s not leave Sara there!

Life often has a way of bringing our deepest fears to our attention. Sara’s best friend has always wanted to learn to draw. She begs Sara to sign up for a continuing education class with her after work. Sara feels very disinterested, even reluctant, but she finally gives in, while protesting that she can’t draw at all! They head off to the first class together (with Sara dragging her feet the whole way).

Luckily, the artist teaching the class has a new way of helping people past their blocks. She starts each class out with some tapping on resistances people normally face. The tapping does seem to help Sara feel more calm and grounded when they draw, but she insists that her work is very poor. She is not enjoying herself.

Her doubts and fears are magnified when she tries to do anything more than mechanical copying.

At the beginning of th
e third class, the teacher has them tap on “I’m not very creative.” She askes them to remember a time when they did feel creative. Sara immediately flashes to the “terrible time” when she was 3. She tries to dismiss it, but the thoughts keep coming up. Finally, when the teacher is walking around helping individuals, she asks her if the memory is important. Because of the intensity of the emotions around the memory, the teacher thinks it might be helpful to do some tapping specifically on this event.

After class, her teacher leads Sara through some tapping. “Even though I felt hurt and scared, I am a good person anyway.” Some different aspects come up as they tap: fear that she dissapointed or hurt her mother… the belief that she is excitable and has to always calm herself down… fear that being creative will make her so self-absorbed that she won’t pay attention to “more important things.”

As they tap, Sara feels lighter and lighter… more hopeful and free.

After about 30 minutes, she feels fine when she tells the story of what happened. The trauma is unfrozen. The cognitive brain can start processing the information, and Sara can go on with her life with more vitality and confidence.

In fact, after tapping through that negative experience (and a few others), she now has more energy. Work is more fun, and she is noticing new ways she could expand her job-function. She’s found herself laughing spontaneously and smiling at random moments. She’s even started liking the drawing class! She feels closer to her friends and her husband.

As an added bonus, she has a new skill… Tapping… that she can use whenever she feels tense or stressed. She doesn’t have to suffer with her fears and frustrations any more.

If you’re interested in resolving childhood traumas for yourself, we encourage you to check out our Trauma Relief Center and specifically our Clearing Childhood Trauma e-book and our Childhood Trauma Relief Starter Set.

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