Came Back Positive…
“I can’t remember anything after the first few words
she said: ‘I’m sorry to tell you that your test
results came back positive.‘ After that,
it was all just a blur of sounds and images –
the traffic outside, my heart beating, the look
on her face. Everything was moving in slow motion.
I just kept hearing those five words echoing
in my head: ‘Your test came back positive.’
How is it that five stupid words can
change your whole life forever?”
The following info has been taken from an article Trauma: Frozen Moments, Frozen Lives written by Gaetano Vaccaro, Ph.D. and Joni Lavick, MFT. I found that they described the phenomenon of trauma, the types of trauma that I work with as an EFT practitioner, very clearly in the following article, and I’d like to share it with you.
Throughout our lives, we all experience significant events that impact our perceptions of the world and determine how we interpret and respond to future experiences. These events elicit powerful thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations that can become imprinted upon the mind. They are moments frozen in time. In the EFT world we refer to this as “programming.”
When these moments represent painful experiences so severe that they overwhelm our ability to cope with the rush of thoughts and feelings they elicit they are referred to as “trauma.”
The writers continue, Everyone experiences traumatic events; it is not the presence of trauma but how an individual deals with a traumatic event that determines the impact it will have on his or her life. If left unresolved, the feelings surrounding trauma can persist, impairing our judgment and effectively “freezing” us into harmful patterns of behavior.
Symptoms of unresolved trauma such as anxiety, stress and depression are often associated with reduced quality of life and poor general health.
The impact of trauma is especially pronounced in childhood.
Trauma can take many forms and occur at any life stage. The impact of trauma is especially pronounced in childhood. For children, even seemingly minor events — such as schoolyard bullying or an encounter with an aggressive dog — can have profound effects. Infancy and childhood are the most critical developmental periods; the human brain completes 75% of its total development within the first six years of life.
A child’s earliest experiences, even those beyond conscious recall, play a crucial role in his or her behaviors, attitude development, relationships, and sense of self in later life. A stable childhood can provide some protection against the effects of trauma, but no one is completely immune. Cataclysmic events, such as riots, natural disasters, and war, can traumatize entire groups of people, regardless of their past experience or current resilience. Diagnosis of a life-threatening illness can traumatize even the most self-confident individual.
What may be traumatic to one individual may not be traumatic to another; it is the subjective perception of “threat” that determines the intensity of each person’s reaction. In the field of trauma therapy, traumatic events are classified as degrees on a continuum: “big-T” trauma, “little-t” trauma, and cumulative trauma (also called chronic unremitting stress).
Big -T trauma:
Big-T trauma is generally associated with discrete, identifiable events and usually involves distinct memories that the individual can recall. A person who has suffered rape, severe childhood abuse, or a catastrophic illness or injury; unexpectedly lost a relative or friend; or witnessed violence or war has experienced big-T trauma. In the short term, these traumas generally exert the most debilitating physical and psychological effects.
Common negative beliefs associated with big-T trauma:
- “I should have done something.”
- “I am powerless.”
- “I can’t protect myself.”
- “I am in danger.”
- “I am weak.”
Little -T trauma and cumulative trauma:
Little-t trauma and cumulative trauma, in contrast, are associated with continual or recurring situations and have more global and lasting effects on the individual. Little-t trauma stems from situations that may seem insignificant or only mildly distressing, but which can lead to extreme reactions. These may include physically uncomfortable experiences like dog bites, dental procedures, or minor automobile accidents, or emotionally painful experiences such as criticism or verbal abuse, repeated failures at school or work, intermittent childhood neglect or isolation, or being bullied or teased.
Common negative beliefs associated with little-t trauma:
- “I am insignificant.”
- “I am a failure.”
- “I am unlovable.”
- “I can’t trust anyone.”
- “I am broken.”
- “I don’t deserve to be happy.”
For young people, little-t traumas may also include “empathic failures” on the part of caregivers. Continual dismissal of a child’s feelings — for example, with words like “you aren’t hurt” or “don’t be sad” — represents a caregiver’s failure to empathize, or perceive and understand the child’s emotional state. When this occurs, there is no “relational home” for the child’s feelings, no sense of the safety or security required for the child to express emotions and learn to regulate them.
The effects of cumulative trauma result from recurring situations or experiences. The constant pressures that contribute to cumulative trauma make it extremely resistant to treatment; it cannot be easily alleviated or temporarily managed through common stress-reduction techniques. As with other trauma, pain inflicted over time can become “frozen” into physical symptoms. Cumulative trauma can lead to a state of apathy, hopelessness, and even rage.
Common negative beliefs associated with cumulative trauma:
- “The world is unsafe.”
- “I need to protect myself at all times.”
- “Nothing will ever change.”
- “There is no point in trying.”
Immediate Effects of Trauma
Humans have evolved highly effective conscious and unconscious response patterns to manage stressful or threatening situations. The brain and body make up a complex interdependent system. Every sensory experience triggers a chain of electrochemical reactions throughout the body: thoughts and impulses in the brain release molecules (neurotransmitters) that transmit information to organs, muscles, and nerves, and then back to the brain in a continuous cycle, stimulating reflexes and reactions, voluntary movements, and thoughts. Most of the affected body systems, known collectively as the “autonomic nervous system,” are automatic and operate beyond conscious control.
The autonomic nervous system has two complimentary divisions: the sympathetic nervous system, which activates our nerves, organs, and muscles into a heightened state of arousal and regulates the “fight or flight” mechanism, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the body’s calming mechanisms (as well as the “freeze” response) and is designed to shut down body systems or return the body to baseline arousal levels. These two systems regulate our emotional and physiological states: they become activated and prepare us to respond when we are confronted by a threat, and calm us after the danger has passed.
However, under the pressure of trauma or chronic stress, both of these systems can malfunction, becoming hyperactive and over-functioning (experienced as anxiety, panic, or dissociation from negative sensations) or frozen and unresponsive (resulting in constant activation). The parts of the brain associated with emotions (particularly the “fear” centers, such as the hypothalamus and amygdala) and the parts that stimulate our conscious responses to danger (such as the limbic system and the reticular activating system) cease to function properly. When this happens, the brain cannot differentiate between threats that are real and threats that are simply perceived.
These malfunctions produce a chronic, underlying state of “dysregulation” or imbalance in the body, which may result in over-arousal and hypervigilence (in which a person seems to overreact to every situation) or sluggishness and dissociation (in which a person seems numb and disconnected in stressful or dangerous situations). This dysregulation of the brain and body systems perpetuates mental, emotional, and physical distress.
Long-Term Effects of Unresolved Trauma
An important feature of trauma is how traumatic experiences become encoded in the brain as memories and throughout the body as sensory information. Big-T trauma is usually associated with specific large-scale events that elicit strong “affective sensations” (sensations accompanied by a strong compulsion to respond, such as the reflex of withdrawing one’s hand from a hot object) as well as powerful visual images, called “snapshot memories.”
Being both sensory and visual, the memories of big-T traumas are stored in both hemispheres of the brain, but primarily in the right hemisphere. Conversely, “little-t” traumas are not discrete events or situations, but rather continual attitudes and sensations that a person experiences over time (such as ongoing criticism or neglect). Little-t traumas are primarily recorded in the right hemisphere as “memory imprints” (such as negative self-concepts, negative beliefs, or feelings of isolation).
In a simplistic sense, in order for any traumatic experience to be processed, it must be felt by the right brain, then analyzed, interpreted, and understood by the left brain. Otherwise, a traumatized person may relive an event over and over again without examining it and coming to terms with what it means.
Unresolved trauma can manifest in many ways, including anxiety disorders, panic attacks, intrusive memories (flashbacks), obsessive-compulsive behaviors (such as triple-checking the front door lock or the stove burners), addictions, self-injury, and a variety of physical symptoms.
Individuals may also suffer from repetition compulsions, which are unconscious, habitual reenactments of elements of a past traumatic experience (if not repetitions of the precise trauma itself). Repetition compulsions are frequently seen in the area of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse. For example, a survivor of childhood abuse may unwittingly select an abusive partner in adult life, and adults who grew up witnessing domestic violence may demonstrate the same abusive behaviors toward others that were modeled to them in the past.
Growing up in an unsupportive or unstable environment can create negative inner models and beliefs that have a destructive effect on future feelings and behavior. Childhood trauma often results in an impaired ability to feel emotions (affective blunting), reduced thinking and reasoning capacity (cognitive deficits), poor behavioral self-regulation, and diminished ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships.
Cumulative trauma or chronic stress can freeze a person into rigid response patterns that cannot be adapted to new situations. Untreated trauma survivors may be sensitive to flashbacks and prone to exaggerated emotional responses, and may have difficulty dealing effectively with new stressful situations. These individuals lack resilience and display exaggerated responses to even relatively benign events — they habitually react to “level-two” threats with a “level-ten” response.
Post- Traumatic Stress Disorder(PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is another common effect of trauma. Generally associated with “Big-T” trauma, PTSD can result from any overwhelming and disturbing event or psychologically unmanageable situation. People with PTSD continually experience the emotional and physical sensations associated with a traumatic experience, sometimes for years after the event occurred. The original situation was so overwhelming that the person cannot release the feelings of anxiety, panic, or helplessness that were elicited at the time.
War veterans and disaster workers, for example, are often bombarded with such disturbing and incomprehensible images that they continually re-experience the horror of the original event. Simple, everyday sounds (a car backfiring) or smells (a fire burning) can trigger a panic reaction or a flashback memory. [In addition, people experience "war" inside and outside of the military, such as severe emotional, physical and/ or sexual child abuse and other traumatic experiences that often result in PTSD.]
Common Symptoms of Unresolved Trauma:
- Anxiety, panic attacks, intrusive thoughts/ flashbacks
- Shame, exaggerated emotions, Irritability
- Mood fluctuations, disorientation, hyper-vigilance
- Avoidance behaviors, nausea, headaches, dizziness, trembling, fainting
- Attractions to dangerous situations or high-risk behaviors
- Sleep Disturbances, nightmares, Heart palpitations
- Extreme sensibility to heat or cold
Trauma is an inescapable part of life
Trauma is an inescapable part of life; every individual is subjected to some form of trauma at some point. Painful events, life challenges, and emotional struggles are an integral part of the human experience, as are happiness, joy, and achievement. All of these elements frame our development and influence our perception of ourselves and the world around us.
Therefore, it is not the mere history of traumatic experiences, or even their severity, that exerts the greatest influence over our future perspectives and behaviors, but rather how well we have made sense of those experiences and come to terms with what they mean to us.
Challenging experiences can help us establish valuable inner resources such as determination, resilience, and adaptability. In most cases, people are able to harness the resources gained in early life to face later challenges, as long as these have been well established and reinforced. However, when a child’s inner resources have been severely undermined through negative interactions with parents or other adults (or even other children), or when the magnitude of current challenges are so great that an adult cannot cope, a traumatic reaction may occur. (See NOTE below about authors, etc)
EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique)
EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or more commonly called Tapping is combination of ancient Chinese medicine and modern psychology, a little like emotional acupuncture without the needles. We use our own fingertips on the same energy meridian points as the acupuncturist uses needles to clear out the blocked energy of trauma and a multitude of other emotional issues.
- subconscious limiting beliefs that keep us stuck from living our strongest business and career lives,
- subconscious past hurts that keep us from experiencing our strongest relationships,
- subconscious emotional beliefs about money and wealth that keep us in emotional turmoil
- even the subconscious fears that are alive and well under such things as illness and disease
EFT is a powerful tool that we can learn to do for ourselves to help us to literally take the physical trauma, stress and “sting” out of traumatic issues much more simply, quickly and permanently than you might ever imagine. I specialize in helping women entrepreneurs get out of their own emotional way and stop subconsciously sabotaging themselves. If the anxiety, stress and fear isn’t serving you anymore, there IS something that you can do about it.
Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to answer your questions or to schedule your INTRODUCTORY phone session, done from the privacy and comfort of your own home or office.
Fear is expensive… Emotional Freedom is priceless!
NOTE: The original article was written in 2008 and was focused on HIV/AIDS. I’ve removed the references to HIV/AIDS because the writers have so eloquently described trauma that affects us all in many, many circumstances in addition to HIV/ AIDS and I wanted it to reach a more inclusive audience. In addition I’ve also removed some of the more technical descriptions so it would be easier for the layperson to understand. To read the original article in it’s entirety click here.