Discover more from The Mind, Brain, Body Digest
Decoding the Myths: How to Release Trauma from the Body Part 1 🧠
7 Myths Around Healing & Releasing Trauma from the Body (7min read)
Myth Debunking: Addresses common trauma healing myths using neuroscience insights.
Individualized Healing: Emphasizes personalized therapeutic approaches.
Non-Linear Healing Journey: Highlights healing as a non-linear, continuous process.
Coping Strategies: Encourages developing strategies to manage emotions and triggers.
Holistic Approach: Advocates for a comprehensive approach to trauma healing.
Engagement: Teases Part 2 for further myth debunking, and invites reader engagement.
A Scientific Approach to Releasing Trauma from the Body
Trauma survivors, especially those emerging from abusive relationships, often find themselves entangled in a web of common misconceptions about trauma healing.
The journey to release trauma from the body is a nuanced and individualized experience, contrary to what certain myths propose.
Leveraging the latest findings from neuroscience, psychology & psychoneuroimmunology, in this blog, I aim to debunk these myths, illuminating a path grounded in science for those seeking healing.
The first draft of this post included 14 myths, and would have taken 15mins to read…
So, I cut it in half, I’ll do Part 1 today, and Part 2 coming the first week of November!
Let's dive in!
Myth 1: You need to remember your trauma in order to heal from it
The notion that one needs to remember their traumatic event in detail to heal from it is misleading.
In fact, forcing oneself to revisit traumatic memories can oftentimes be retraumatizing.
Neuroscientifically, memory-processing systems like the hippocampus and amygdala play pivotal roles in how we store and process traumatic memories.
Therapeutic approaches like Somatic Experiencing can facilitate healing by addressing the physical sensations associated with trauma, bypassing the need for explicit recollection.
The notion of revisiting and processing past memories has been a significant component of psychotherapeutic practices like Psychoanalysis, pioneered by Sigmund Freud.
Freud emphasized uncovering unconscious memories as a part of the healing process, which might have contributed to the belief that recalling traumatic events is necessary for healing.
Myth 2: There is one "right way" to heal from trauma
The assertion that there's a singular path to healing from trauma undermines the diversity of experiences and responses among trauma survivors.
Healing is a highly personal endeavor, and what works for one may not suit another.
Internal Family Systems (IFS), Somatic Experiencing (SE), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and somatic practices like Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) which were created by Dr. David Berceli offer a range of options, catering to individual needs and preferences.
This myth might stem from a desire for standardized solutions, which is prevalent in many areas of society.
The medical model of treating illnesses, which often employs a standardized approach, may have been erroneously extended to the process of healing from trauma, overlooking the unique nature of each individual’s traumatic experience and healing journey.
I have found with my own clients, blending Bottom-Up methods like SE/IFS, with Top-Down methods like CBT while helping them create healthy habits & routines with the Heroes Body to be the most useful when healing trauma.
Myth 3: You need to talk about your trauma in order to heal from it
While discussing trauma can be therapeutic for some, others may find solace in non-verbal expressions like creative arts, physical exercise, or engaging with nature.
The key is to find a medium that facilitates emotional release and fosters a connection to the present moment, aiding in the alleviation of emotional distress and chronic stress associated with trauma.
Traditional talk therapy has been a dominant form of psychotherapy for over a century.
This emphasis on verbal expression of feelings and experiences in such therapeutic settings might have contributed to the belief that talking about trauma is necessary for healing.
Myth 4: Healing from trauma means getting rid of all negative emotions
Healing from trauma doesn’t equate to the eradication of negative emotions.
Instead, it involves developing coping strategies to manage these emotions and helps us develop a new relationship with them.
Techniques like deep breathing, IFS Parts interviews, and progressive muscle relaxation can aid in navigating emotional turmoil and promoting emotional health.
This myth may have come from the societal norm that often favors positive emotions while deeming negative emotions as undesirable.
This preference might have translated into the belief that healing from trauma should result in the elimination of negative emotions, overlooking the fact that acknowledging and processing negative emotions is a crucial part of the healing process.
IFS has a concept that we have "No Bad Parts" which is their lingo for saying that there are no bad emotions, only ones we haven't gotten to know yet.
In fact, ignoring them and pushing them away is what causes the "negative" feelings/emotions more often than not!
Myth 5: You have to forgive the person who hurt you in order to heal
Forgiveness is a personal choice and not a prerequisite for healing.
The journey towards forgiving an abuser may take time, or may never occur, and that's okay.
The focus should be on self-healing and finding peace within oneself.
Cultural, religious, or philosophical beliefs often extol forgiveness as a virtue or a necessary step toward closure.
These societal values might have contributed to the myth that forgiving the perpetrator is a necessary step in the healing process.
While forgiveness is more about you than it is them, it doesn't make it necessary for healing or releasing trauma from the body.
I've worked with plenty of survivors who didn't do any forgiveness-type work and many who have.
Both were able to heal and find consistent mental and emotional health again.
Myth 6: Releasing trauma from the body is a linear process
Healing is not a linear process; it entails ups and downs, which is a good thing, we need time to process what's happening to us.
Understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of trauma responses, like the fight or flight response governed by the autonomic nervous system, can provide insight into the variable nature of healing trajectories.
This is because not everyone’s nervous system responds to trauma in the exact same way.
Some individuals might have a more pronounced fight response, while others may exhibit a flight or freeze response (where the body becomes immobilized).
The variability in these initial responses to trauma can influence how people process and cope with traumatic experiences.
Oftentimes, people go through each of these in phases, some fight, then a little freeze, then some flight, then back to fight, etc.
Each of these different responses and emotions need to be worked with in slightly different ways, leading to a very non-linear healing path for each person.
So, where did this myth come from?
Well, the desire for predictability and control is a human tendency.
People often seek linear, straightforward solutions to complex problems.
The misconception that healing from trauma follows a linear trajectory might arise from this tendency, coupled with a lack of understanding of the complex nature of trauma and healing.
Myth 7: Once you've healed from trauma, you'll never be triggered again
Even post-healing, triggers may still occur.
The goal is to develop coping strategies, possibly through cognitive-behavioral therapy or IFS, to manage triggers in a healthy manner, diminishing their impact over time.
The desire for a "complete resolution" and a life free from triggers post-healing might stem from a lack of understanding about the enduring nature of some trauma symptoms and the expectation of a ‘cure’ akin to medical treatment outcomes.
Healing is a lifestyle, not a destination. This is the most important thing to remember when starting your healing journey!
Some of my clients have a hard time with this concept because they expect some kind of utopia at the end.
I try to help them understand that it's kind of like a superhero movie, no matter what new power the hero gets or what enemy they beat in the last story or movie, there's always another one.
Oftentimes, the next enemy is even more powerful than the last, but with your new powers, you can handle it!
There is Hope
Disentangling the truths from myths is imperative for embarking on a scientifically grounded and compassionate healing journey.
Recognizing the interplay between our mental, emotional, and physical experiences of trauma, and harnessing a holistic, informed approach, facilitates a nurturing path towards releasing trauma from the body, promoting overall well-being and a harmonious daily life.
The good news is that there is hope, and there is a path forward!
I wish you the best of luck on your journey, please reach out with any questions or concerns you may have.
I will see you in November with 7 more myths in Part 2 of this blog.
And, as always, until next time... Live Heroically! 🧠
Van der Kolk, B. A. (1994). The body keeps the score: Memory and the evolving psychobiology of posttraumatic stress. Harvard review of psychiatry, 1(5), 253-265.
Wampold, B. E. (2001). The great psychotherapy debate: Models, methods, and findings. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.
van der Kolk, B. A. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books.
Greenberg, L. S., & Pascual-Leone, A. (2006). Emotion in psychotherapy: A practice-friendly research review. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 62(5), 611-630.
Worthington Jr, E. L. (2006). Forgiveness and reconciliation: Theory and application. Routledge.
Shackleton, V. J., Chahal, K., & Cipriani, A. (2021). Releasing trauma from the body: the role of sensory-motor psychotherapy in posttraumatic stress disorder—a case study. Neuropsychiatry, 11(2), 694-699.
Shapiro, F. (2017). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): Basic principles, procedures, and research. In J. Wilson & L. Friedman (Eds.), Handbook of treatment for PTSD (3rd ed., pp. 234-260). Guilford Press
Courtois, C. A., & Ford, J. B. D. (2013). Treating complex trauma: A relational approach. Guilford Press.
Ogden, P. (2006). Sensorimotor psychotherapy: Interventions for trauma and attachment. W. W. Norton & Company
Worthington, E. L. (2016). Forgiving big: Ten ways to heal from the unforgivable. HarperCollins.
Levine, P. A. (2010). In an unspoken voice: How the body releases trauma and restores goodness. North Atlantic Books.