How Trauma Affects Our Body

There are a lot of people going about their lives with the effects of trauma affecting their body, sleep, mind, and relationships. They often seek help from a physician and are given a prescription that either doesn’t work, or numbs their mind and emotions.

Trauma takes many forms — we mostly associate it with a form of violent physical impact. These can be a car wreck, rape, assault, being shot etc. Continued domestic abuse is trauma, as is being hit once by someone you trust, being bullied in childhood is trauma, any abnormal parenting is trauma although as children we believe it to be normal. Whenever it is realized as harmful people often don’t know what to do.

Other trauma may be the death of a parent, or their abandonment, being forced to do labor around the house (I don’t mean age appropriate chores like doing dishes, or helping to wash the car).

Many ailments are caused by trauma; headaches, neck pain, back pains, tension, insomnia, anxiety, memory loss, stomach problems.

This is because we are body and mind. They are not separate. If an ailment is begun though trauma, it is no less real than being caused by inflammation.

Here is an example. A young woman was driving a car and reached a four way stop. A truck was coming from the left, some 100 yards away. The young woman started to cross the junction, in accordance with Californian law.

Her next memory was feeling incredibly tired. She proceeded to drive but the car was making a clunking sound. She pulled over and tried to get out to look out the outside of the vehicle. The driver’s door would not open. She climbed through the passenger side and walked around. She saw only a large dent.

Getting back in through the passenger side, she caught sight of her hair in the rear view mirror. It was red with blood, all down the long length of it, and her shirt was red with blood too, and some on her jeans. She saw a bluish grey mark about one inch in a triangular shape. She still was unable to realize what had happened.

Deciding to turn around to get help, she came across some people roughly her age. She stopped and asked if they would call her home number. She noticed that they looked scared of her.

All this time her ability to drive was not impaired.

When we are in shock we continue to function.

The next thing she knew was that she had paramedics talking to her and cutting off the car door. Then she was in the ambulance being asked what year it was. She was troubled that they did not know. She is unable to recall if she answered or not.

Her next memory is in the Emergency Department. Someone she could not see said that she need stitches. A shaver started to buzz. This triggered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from a previous, devastating incident. She started to scream, tears flowing. The staff were kind enough to reassure her. She was able to gradually stop her screams.

In all, she had 40 stitches in her head from the top of her forehead going over her skull, and above her right eyebrow.

The husband of the family with which she was living arrived with another of her friends. We’ll call that man Joe.

The paramedics had called Joe and told him to get to Pomona City hospital quickly as the young woman was bleeding out badly. This was a trigger for Joe, as his brother had committed suicide a few years previously.

When the hospital finally said that young woman could go, she sat up to leave but her friend insisted she remove her shirt and, wearing a shirt over a T shirt, gave her shirt to be worn home. This was the first time young woman saw her shirt properly. She described it as having a red front with just a few places of pink and white stripe left visible.

Joe carried the young woman to his car. He later carried her into the house.

His wife wanted to help her wash her face. On seeing her reflection in the bathroom mirror, the young woman passed out.

This accident traumatized the young woman. For years she was terrified when a car approached a T junction with the road on which she was driving. A highway she had used regularly with a left turn became a torture. One day she was waiting to turn, but froze. She could not trust her own judgment anymore even though the car wreck had not been her fault.

Fortunately, a very kind driver drew level with her on the right and signalled to pull out at the same time. She thumbed up her thanks and pulled out in tandem with the other car, dropping behind as her next turning was on the right.

  • Carried. When the young woman was carried by Joe, that tight holding started a recovery. Trauma is lessened by tight hugs, holding, and cradling. A nervous system so damaged by the violence and anarchy of the car wreck, responds to tight holding. In all, Joe carried her four times, as on the way home from the hospital he took her to church to be prayed for. He was hugged by older people who were there. Her peers were too scared of her wounds. He then carried her back to the car, and then carried her into the house. Later, he would carry her when she fainted after having her stitches removed.
  • Talking. Many friends visited her while she was recovering. The couple let her use their double bedroom during the day, and she often lay beside her friends as they talked. This started the healing process. Traumatized people tend to repeat themselves if they have no one to listen to them soon after the cause. This has been noted in patients who have been in Intensive Care.

So, we see that the two main therapies are holding and listening. These are the primary needs of a baby. If they are not held they will not thrive. If they are not heard when they cry, their needs cannot be met.

I have laid my body over a woman who was crying from trauma. I was careful not to be inappropriate. A man in my care collapsed. His face was drained of all color. I knew he was bleeding internally. An emergency was made and I knelt beside him shouting his name, it brought him to near consciousness but the paramedics got it wrong and put him on their gurney with both head and feet raised. They should have only raised his feet so that blood would still reach his heart and brain.

References: My notes taken while in a therapeutic relationship with the young woman. Sue Chamberlain, SRN, Intensive Care nurse, UK.

Published in Know Thyself, Heal Thyself