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The Nature of Trauma

When we think of trauma, we usually parade (in our mental images) situations that threaten life or physical and emotional integrity. Peter Levine, creator of Somatic Experiencing® (a somatic intervention for the healing and prevention of traumatic stress) revolutionized the concept of trauma, postulating that it is due to any experience that happens too quickly, too intensely or too early, overcoming, thus, the individual's ability to actively cope with the situation.

What happens in these situations is an overload in the nervous system, which collapses in its ability to fight or flee and instinctively enters a third survival response, a passive one, which is tonic immobility or dissociation.

The revolution in this definition lies in focusing not on the traumatic event itself - which can be huge, generating trauma in some and not in others, or it can be apparently insignificant, but leave dysfunctional marks for a lifetime; it focuses on whether or not the organism is resilient (a term imported from physics that means the ability of a body to withstand pressure without becoming disorganised).

The construction of resilience is a complex process, which goes through our previous stories of success and failure, self-confidence and insecurity, genetics and physical complexion, but also through the result of an evolution of 180 million years, as animals that we are, in the top of the evolutionary chain, and which responds to threats as if we were running from a saber tooth tiger.

Under threat, our autonomic instinctive defense system is activated, and we start to act with our guts: the most primitive, reptilian brain, whose language is sensation, comes into action and tries to mobilize all the body systems (endocrine, motor, circulatory, visceral...), with the intention of increasing our ability to survive.

After the danger has passed, we call back the homo sapiens part to give meaning to everything that has happened through the higher mammalian brain: the neo-cortex.

However, the neo-cortex is only an instrument that models the raw material of the lived experience, it is not in itself the raw material of the trauma, therefore sometimes having little effectiveness in normalising our bio-psycho-social functioning again.

Trauma, inscribed in the nervous system through intrinsic, procedural, somatic memory, does not accept being penetrated by cognition and we need therapeutic resources that allow access to the somatic unconscious and integrate it into the original current of life and the conscious functions of the ego.

The understanding of trauma, in terms of neurophysiology, is in absolute harmony with the Jungian psychodynamic definition of complex: we are dealing with pieces of experiences that, because they are unbearable or incompatible with the egoic organisation, become dissociated from it and start to function with own autonomy and management, as if it were an alter-ego, clearly of a dark nature.

As at the center of every complex there is an archetype, with a particular affective tone, traumatic experiences are organised by similarity of archetypal content, so that different events begin to orbit, like satellites, around the same nucleus.

As a result, in our forays into the somatic universe of trauma, we often deal with more than one overloading experience, which are not organised in our system in a linear or chronological way, since the unconscious is not linear, logical or chronological, but imagetic, symbolic and metaphorical.

This understanding can help not only to renegotiate specific experiences, but also to enhance the traits of our clients' character structures - formed, in turn, by traumatic experiences during personality development.

Re-associating the dissociated experiences, increasing the egoic continent and integrating dark elements are the components of our heroic journey towards the great mystery that is us.



Liana Netto is a clinical psychologist, professor and supervisor of the Jungian Institute of Bahia and of the Somatic Experiencing® trainings, coordinator of the Postgraduate course in Jungian Psychotraumatology and doctor in medicine (Federal University of Bahia).




Bem vindos às fontes donde bebo e jorro.

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