Have you ever had a moment – perhaps on a particularly bad day – that you’ve thought ‘This can’t be right! A human being was never meant to live like this!’ There’s a lot of truth in your bewildered observation; it may or may not be some consolation to know that the world’s leaders in trauma therapy are coming to the same conclusion!
Because trauma is rampant in our world today an enormous amount of work has been done, and helped along with new insights in brain science, a lot more is understood about the brain-body mechanisms that lead to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and it’s many debilitating symptoms.
Naturally someone who had been through a horrific event – like a serious road traffic accident, a violent assault, or a natural disaster – will experience after effects. The worrying thing is that many who have been through fairly minor events are being diagnosed with PTSD. An example might be someone who seemed to be functioning perfectly well is tail-ended on the way to work one morning, and their lives fall apart! Someone who would be no means be perceived as a ‘wimp’ may suffer years of sleep disturbance, chronic pain and inability to hold down a job – the result of a 5mile an hour collision!
So what has gone wrong when someone (as in the example above) appears to have so little resilience – how can a minor event have such devastating consequences? Leaders in the field of trauma therapy would say that the underlying problem is accumulated stress: stress responses that are meant to fire up, help us through crisis, then disappear, have actually stacked up in the system. These accumulated stress responses mean that a person who appears to be functioning perfectly well might actually be living very close to their tipping point; due to the backlog of stress in their system, they are working really hard to ‘function perfectly well’. Sadly, it’s not going to take much to push them beyond their tipping point.
The other possible reason for this apparent lack of resilience is developmental trauma – conditions in the person’s early life were not sufficient to lay down the basis of resilience and somehow they have not sufficient inner resources to roll with the punches.
If you want to learn more about the fascinating new developments in trauma therapy, why not investigate ‘From Stress to Resilience’ a new 6 week course starting in Monaghan Wellness Centre. While the bad news is that trauma and accumulated stress are so rampant in our society, the good news is that an amazing amount of work is being done to understand and to discover ways to heal this modern plague. Hence the course will not only present some fascinating information about how trauma messes us up, but also lots of ways in which we can reduce our own backlog of accumulated stress, thus restoring resilience and aliveness.
But coming back to your thought at the beginning ‘This ain’t right. Surely this isn’t how a human being is meant to live!’ One of the most fascinating lines of enquiry that the experts in trauma are following – is that indeed this isn’t right. While life has changed enormously since our human ancestors came down from the trees and started to live a two-legged live on the ground, our nervous systems have not actually changed very much. Our nervous systems are designed for a life of the hunter-gatherer – a life lived in tribes of about 50 to 150 people, where we knew everybody, everybody looked out for everybody else; we hardly ever met a stranger and crises – such as a visit from a man-eating tiger, or aggression from a neighbouring tribe – were intense but short lived. The important thing is that crises were spaced out – there was time for life (and our nervous systems) to get back to normal, to a state of relative ease, before the next crisis.
So from this perspective, it seems that modern life itself is a ‘trauma’ for a species meant for a much quieter, slower existence. Unless you’re living as a hermit, you may well have the sense that there’s always something else – you’ve just sorted one crisis and there’s another half dozen waiting! This is a recipe for accumulated stress, a recipe for living dangerously close to your tipping point – the edge of your resilience. But, please don’t despair – there’s a lot that you can do – just to understand how your nervous system and stress responses work is a great first step; and then practising yoga and mindfulness are great ways to restore order and resilience within your system, no matter how overworked and chaotic it has been.(Yoga in particular is recommended by leaders in the field of trauma and it is taught as an integral part of the recovery programmes in many of the world’s leading trauma treatment centres.)