Trauma Healing is A Whole-Body Experience

Telling the story of your trauma and being able to name your emotions is an important and courageous part of the healing process. Acknowledging the thinking distortions and limiting beliefs that are often the result of trauma is also an important part of the process.

But if you solely focus on what’s happening with your thoughts and mind and/or identifying your emotions, you limit the healing possibilities available to you. A therapy or recovery process that focuses primarily on left-brain activity misses the majority of the impact and experience of childhood trauma.

Honestly, it doesn’t work to separate our mind from our body. It’s not really possible. We experience emotion in the body. Our thoughts elicit sensations in the body. Our body is always involved.

For most of us, survival from childhood trauma meant having to separate from our body in some way (i.e., some form of dissociation or shutting down feelings). It was too overwhelming to stay present in our bodies as children, and we then continue to live that way into adulthood because it becomes so ingrained and familiar.

Because of this, comprehensive treatment of the effects of childhood trauma should always take a whole-body approach.

When you truly connect with the impact of childhood trauma, you experience it head to toe, inside and out. When you have a whole-body connection to your trauma, you experience it in your:

  • Mind: Thoughts, images, judgments and beliefs about yourself and what happened
  • Body: Body memories and other physical sensations, breathing changes, tears, crying
  • Heart/soul/spirit: Feeling lost, unsure of what’s real and what’s not, feeling unsafe in the world and in relationships, hiding, feeling shut down
  • Sense of Self: Self-doubt, worthlessness, unsure where you fit in, lack of a sense of belonging

The trauma that you experienced as a child impacted the whole of you, and you carry that with you every day. I did too.

However, this head-to-toe approach to recovery helps connect you to the reality of what you went through. When you were shamed by your mom, it affected your thoughts and beliefs—and you carry that shame in your body. When you were hit by your dad, it hurt your physical body—and over time it affected how you saw yourself. Any abuse and neglect that you experienced impacted you in body, mind, and spirit.

I believe trauma recovery must include bodily based elements. That could look like simply paying attention to any physical sensations that come up during a therapy session and being curious about them. Or it could be working with a therapist that is trained in experiential modalities such as Somatic Experiencing or Equine Assisted Psychotherapy. Simply put, it’s about involving your physical body in your therapy process.

Aside from therapy, the whole-body experience of recovery involves:

  • Moving your body – yoga, stretching, walking 
  • Tending to your body – getting good rest, drinking plenty of water, and getting regular physicals 
  • Learning to listen to and trust your body – identifying hunger and thirst, tiredness, t, comfort

This is a gentle process. Take your time. Get help and support from someone who is in their own whole-body process of recovery.

If this is a new approach for you, here are a few ideas of ways that you can start to shift into this type of recovery process:

  • The next time you see your therapist, pay attention to any bodily sensation that comes up during your session. Notice it without judgment and tell your therapist what’s happening for you. The two of you can approach it with curiosity to see if there’s anything to learn from it. And if there’s nothing clear that comes from it, that’s OK. The point here is to get used to paying attention to what’s happening in your body.
  • Acknowledge to your body all that it helped you survive in childhood.
  • The next time you feel an emotion, see if you can notice where it’s showing up in your body. If you can, describe what it feels like in your body.

These are just a few ideas to get you started thinking about your recovery differently. I hope they are helpful to you.

Peace on the journey,