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Five Elements of Dialogic Healing

Body-Wisdom: Bring your body back to life. Learn how to unlock & transform trapped energy in your body to regain a vibrant physical well-being.
Insight: Gain psychological insight into the origins of the difficulties in your current life and the clarity and understanding to change them.
Spirit: Learn how to access peace, joy, and to deeply love yourself, and communicate this love to those in your life.
Cognitive Felt-Sense Techniques: Develop practical & soothing techniques that allow you to adjust your feelings & behaviors.
Relationship: Develop the tools to have a wonderful relationship or the skills and magnetism needed to attract a quality partner.

Madison Omholt, PhD.BackForward619.519.1000

 

Trauma, Overactive Human Defensive Systems, and a loss of Meaning


Through millions of years of evolution, the adaptive defense mechanisms of fight, flight, and freeze have evolved in mammals and primates.  In many “civilized” human beings it could be argued that these same defense mechanisms have become maladaptive.

When faced with a threat, whether that threat is perceived, imagined, or habituated, the sympathetic branch of our nervous system activates a number of physiological mechanisms that are design to ensure our survival:

  • peripheral visual constriction (eyes focusing in on the threat or prey)
  • blood flows away from digestive and reproductive organs (so we can engage the large muscles of the limbs for fight or flight)
  • increase heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration
  • sweaty palms
  • dilated pupils
  • cold hands and feet
  • hair on end
  • dry mouth

When there is a “threat,” our bodies innervate to defend ourselves, but most of us are not capable of physiologically differentiating a perceived psychological threat and reaction, from a physical threat and reaction.  In other words, we react neurologically in a similar manner to psychological stress as to physical threat.  To further add to the stressful dilemma, if our fight and flight capacities are overwhelmed, our final defense mechanism of freeze engages.  This state is characterized by:

  • no emotions
  • no motion
  • no sensation
  • not unpleasant
  • not anxiety, fear, terror, anger, nausea, etc.
  • seems as if nothing is happening

Freeze is a state where we are dissociated, but it is not a deeply restful physiological experience, for our bodies are frozen at the apex of the fight/flight response, we are just no longer aware that the acute survival innervation is occurring.  In contrast to mammals and primates, because of our large associative neo-cortex and lack of authentic community, we typically do not process our states of frozen overwhelm.  Such unprocessed events are referred to as “trauma” and can occur when any event unexpectedly strikes us in such a way that it overwhelms us, leaving us physiologically and psychologically altered and disconnected from our bodies.  “Trauma” is not the event itself, but our reactions to the event, and how it resides in our nervous systems long after the event is over.

If you were to lock an adult alone in a dark room for a number of hours, that adult could be a number of things: bored, asleep, meditating, scared, but probably basically OK.  If you were to leave an 8-year old in the same dark room, for the same time, there is a greater likelihood the child would be afraid, but she may have developed the capacity to calm herself down and once again, that child would probably emerge from the darkness OK, at least after some caring connection and down time.  If you were to leave an infant in the same situation, that infant could easily be terrified.  The sympathetic branch (fight/flight), responsible for flailing limbs and increased heart rate, is developed at birth and continues to mature in the months following birth. Yet an infant cannot flee, it can only fight off the unpleasantness by tightening its belly, or it can twist and turn in an attempt to get away. In contrast, the parasympathetic branch (rest/digest), responsible for calming, is very immature at birth and only develops around 18-months of age.  Even the simplest forms of neglect or abuse in early developmental years can have traumatic residues deep within our nervous systems that shape how we react and view the world.

Other categories that can overwhelm our fight/flight defensive systems causing freeze and trauma:

  • domestic violence and other interpersonal violence (experiencing or witnessing)
  • severe emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • natural catastrophes and wars
  • sexual assault
  • automobile accidents, other physical accident, even minor injuries
  • invasive medical and dental procedures and severe illness, especially when there are fevers
  • childhood neglect or being left alone for too long
  • prolonged immobilization for children
  • birth stress for mother and infant
  • early childhood attachment trauma

When overwhelm from past traumas has not been processed, whether it lies at a conscious or sub-conscious level of our awareness, it may contribute to numerous symptoms including dissociation and habitual stress.  Stress does not only have a poor effect on our psyche, there is a large and growing amount of scientific evidence that our physiological system designed for responding to acute emergencies, when turned on for months or even years on end, as we worry about finances, relationships, etc. can have a deleterious effect on our health through stress-related diseases and through our stress-weakened ability to fight off other disease.

With our defensive systems overactivated, we are not neurologically able to orient to the reality of the present.  When we are in the habit of “sensing” danger all of the time, we are not able to sense when there is actual danger present.  Our navigational systems are no longer working, reading danger alerts when there lies not a cloud in the sky.  In such lives the deep rich stores of love, happiness, and meaning that can only be found when we are able to navigate the pathway of our lives through our own unique development, are nowhere to be found.  As the poet TS Eliot once captured the loss of such love, we too may be lost, feeling alone, and asking…