When a physical danger threatens us that we can't stop, control or escape, our natural instinct for survival-which includes the body summoning a tremendous amount of energy to fight or flee-short circuits. These short circuits ricochet through our bodies as well as our minds. This can result in shock, dissociation, and many other kinds of involuntary responses while the violence is happening.
The short circuit stays with us long after the violence ends.
The short term effects can include flashbacks, hypervigilance, jumpiness, sleeplessness, and general anxiety. If untreated, this stress on our systems can lead to deep exhaustion, isolation and despair.
Trauma that is strictly mental or emotional-rather than the result of a physical injury-can manifest in our bodies in a variety of ways including chronically restricted tissue, the shrinking or bracing of the overall structure, a tight diaphragm and shallow breathing, cold hands and feet (the body summons energy from the extremities to the central nervous system and core), and strong tension at the base of the skull and at the bottom of the spine.1
Jasmin Lee Cori, a professional counselor and author of Healing from Trauma, describes these physical signs as resulting from the body becoming a "too-tight package." The individual who has experienced trauma is "caught in a pattern of alarm and self-protection, with the lower brain stem still on alert."2 The trauma survivor, then, can live in perpetual anticipation of the next "attack" in part because of the body's inability to complete the circuit and let go of the initial threat.
In addition to the ongoing physical effects that occur after a trauma, many conditions can result over the long term. Psychologically, these include PTSD, acute stress disorder, depression, anxiety disorders like panic attacks and obsessive-compulsive patterns, addictions, eating disorders, as well as borderline personalities and dissociative disorders. Physically, trauma can manifest itself in the form of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, chemical sensitivities, myofascial pain, problems with the temporomandibular joint of the jaw (TMJ), chronic lower back pain, and chronic headaches or migrain
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