Years ago, I began to notice trauma patterns in my ROCK STEADY community members.
I could see this in their use of language, their relationship toward their bodies, in their body language and in their symptomatology.
Twenty years ago, trauma was quietly spoken about in whispered tones amongst my medical peers in hospital settings. It was something that nobody felt too confident talking about, yet, with time has come many new options and a rich understanding of how our body and brain can heal unhelpful trauma patterns.
So over the years, I began to get curious about the links between unprocessed trauma and chronic symptoms.
It is truly fascinating what I learnt. Both personally and professionally.
First, as I began to get curious and study trauma, a heap of my own unprocessed trauma arose (how clever, thanks body!) and I was fortunate enough to process this using my ROCK STEADY tools. This led me to develop a short course called Overcoming Trauma based on neuroplasticity skills and how they can be useful in healing trauma patterns.
Much of trauma is held in our body as fight, flight, or freeze patterns. There is also talk of fawning patterns which look like people-pleasing and ignoring one’s own body, in order to appease others as a survival mechanism.
Fight patterns could look like anger, and attack either toward other people or towards one’s self. It may result in muscle tension as the muscles of our body grip and tense ready for combat. It may look like fighting what we feel in our body and fighting symptoms.
Flight could look like withdrawal, trying to run away from conversations, situations, events or relationships. It may look like avoidance and distraction of the present moment, via social media, drugs, alcohol, sex or whatever can numb us from feeling whatever it is that we don’t want to feel.
Freeze can look like emotional absence, an inability to feel, or difficulty to sense emotions. A sense of dissociation or out-of-body disorientation for no known reason. Or perhaps feeling unsure of what one is feeling. A sense of ongoing confusion around emotions, feelings and felt sense. A constant sense of waiting for external approval or for somebody else to validate us or tell us how we should be feeling.
So what is trauma and what are we overcoming?
A big ‘T’ trauma could be surviving a car accident, sexual assault or a war. It is usually an acute event that can be easily identified. It may be suppressed and forgotten for many years, and remembered when we are emotionally ready to process it.
A small ‘t’ trauma is usually a subtle, repeated interaction that may never be identified and therefore can easily go overlooked and remain unresolved.
A small ‘t’ trauma could be a childhood of feeling invalidated, dismissed or having your emotional world minimized by the caretakers around you. It could be thousands of acts of racism or sexism that were never acknowledged and lodged deep into our sense of self. These micro events alter the development of the brain and teach us to invalidate, dismiss and minimize ourselves, ongoing, as a way of life. This can result in a disconnection to our felt sense, our inner world and our emotional body. This sort of trauma can be more difficult to identify and can result in trauma patterns that seem to come from nowhere, because it feels like ‘nothing happened’. The trauma itself can be minimized, ignored, or distorted making it difficult to get support or resolution.
Essentially these fight, flight, freeze and fawn patterns are normal, healthy and vital neurological reflex patterns that help us cope with life threatening situations. Sometimes, we genuinely do need these fight, flight, freeze and fawn reflexes and behaviours, but not always, certainly not 24/7.
The problems occur when our neurological system becomes locked in trauma patterns as a way of life, instead of as a response to actual life threatening stimuli. This can lead to flashbacks, distracting thoughts, persistent worries, doubts and difficulties finding joy.
Unresolved trauma can show up as:
— difficulty being alone, still, or quiet
— feeling chronic symptoms of pain, discomfort or unease
— distorted thinking, ongoing worries, low mood
— trust issues, relationship breakdowns, difficulty in intimacy
— eating disorders, addictions
— avoidance behaviours
— volatile moods and frequent emotional triggers in daily life
— feeling trapped, contracted, tight, tense, or Not-Quite-Right (NQR) often
— low self esteem, feelings of shame
Resolved trauma can look like:
— awareness of and tools to regulate a fight/flight/freeze/fawn pattern
— feelings of choice, agency and a sense of control to override unwanted patterns
— expanded, soft, relaxed body language most of the time
— slower thoughts and a capacity to befriend one’s self, regardless of our passing sensations or emotions
— feelings of love, compassion, kindness and understanding toward our own lived experience and the sensations in our mind or body
— capacity to remain present with ourselves during discomfort, unrest, or NQR so that these moments can pass without drama or unnecessary resistance
— an understanding of our shared human experience and an ability to be an empathic witness to ourselves and to others during difficult times
— a sense of freedom, power, centre and groundedness in daily life
Peter Levine, an authority on the topic of trauma healing, describes trauma as:
“Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.”
If you would like to learn more about overcoming trauma and how to befriend your own inner fight/flight/freeze patterns, take a look at my Overcoming Trauma Program.
Watch this short video below of me speaking about the program.
You may also like to look at my Short Programs Bundle that includes all of my short programs at a deep discount.
I would love to see the word trauma become a friendly word that invites curiosity instead of fear. We humans are born to move through trauma and to build resilience. It is a great part of our shared humanity, and trauma patterns, in my opinion, are nothing to fear and everything to get curious about.
This doesn’t make the path to healing trauma an easy one. It is courageous and most likely tender.
Many of my participants have shared that in hindsight, living with unresolved trauma was harder than learning to feel it through and bring a resolution to it.
Wherever you are on your own path, I feel it is fair to say that we are all impacted by trauma in some way. Whether it is collective trauma, generational trauma, environmental trauma, or a direct experience of trauma.
It feels to me that we are swimming in an ocean of unresolved trauma globally, resulting in collective beliefs that have been formed from traumatised perspectives and leave us jumping from fry pan to fry pan as a human species. Buy more! Build more! Do more! Run! Avoid! Hide! Fear! Disconnect! Shut down! Numb out!
Imagine a world where we slow down, pause, feel, reflect and choose wisely.
May we let the genius of our body resolve what is ready to heal, so that we can listen to our inner wisdom, take back control of our lives, and take better care of our planet earth.
First up, I describe this in detail in chapter four of my book, Rock Steady, so I highly recommend you take a read.
And second up, it’s both. So tinnitus can come from the ear system, from the outer ear, middle ear, or inner ear where there’s mechanical movements and there’s neural signals being processed and sent along our auditory nerve through the brain stem and to the brain auditory processing areas, the auditory cortex. And anywhere between the inner ear and the brain, we can have perception and tinnitus sounds that come and go. So it’s really happening through the body and through the brain. Anywhere that the nerves are firing.
My tinnitus sounds like a computer in my head. It’s hard to describe. It doesn’t sound like the descriptions I’ve heard. Could this still be tinnitus? MRI shows nothing wrong or abnormal.
First of all, and I explain this in my book, Rock Steady, every person could describe the sounds in their body differently and it’s all still tinnitus. Tinnitus describes any sound that nobody else can perceive but you. It’s sound coming from within your body. It’s sound that only you hear. So any description is a good description and it’s a little bit like describing wine. 100 people could describe a wine in 100 different ways, even though it’s the same wine. The way you describe it is your way and it’s perfectly fine. I’ve actually heard that tinnitus sounds like a computer sounds so there are other people out there who would describe it that way too and it’s all tinnitus. So, that’s the first thing.
Yes, sometimes it is hard to describe and that’s okay. And I wouldn’t get bogged down in trying to describe it because probably really what you want to do is to celebrate the fact that they’ve found nothing wrong with your brain, that sounds like you’ve got medical clearance. That there’s nothing wrong with you. So that’s good. We want to take an exhale and relax into that information. That’s where we want to prioritize. The sound can come and go, you can reverse the neural emphasis on it. And if you follow the Rock Steady path, you can retrain the maps of your brain to return back to or to really rebuild a whole new normal where tinnitus is no longer central. So I think it’s important to acknowledge what you’re hearing and also acknowledge that it’s safe. It’s allowed to be there. And it’s great that you’ve got a normal MRI.
It’s been 13 months and I have PPPD, but should I continue to do vestibular exercises? I don’t feel they’re helping and they may be even making it worse.
So PPPD is not a condition that generally thrives on or needs vestibular exercises. Most people with PPPD have incredible balance and normal balance function and the vestibular exercises can certainly be aggravating and not needed — not necessary. By all means, try them. But, if you’re not feeling benefit probably within about six weeks, I would happily encourage my clients to let that go.
But where PPPD can benefit from is quiet stillness and also the mental, emotional, spiritual exercises that are offered and the tools and supports that are offered in the Rock Steady program. So it’s not about repeating mechanical, physical, vestibular exercises anymore. It’s about teaching the brain how to find safety and how to self-regulate, how to co-regulate and how to repair any broken trust within the body. Because to a certain extent, the fight, flight, freeze nervous system dysregulation is happening when we feel the symptoms within our body. So the trigger can be coming from within us. So we have to repair that relationship within ourselves. So the mental, emotional, spiritual aspects will probably need a lot more attention and the vestibular exercises may be less so.
Hi, Joey, I’d love to know your opinion on diets, such as the Medical Medium’s, that claim to have healing effects on your body.
My response to this is you know your body better than anybody so I would be very hesitant to take any recommendations from anybody other than your body.
Deeply listen to your body’s intuitive call when it comes to food, maybe slow down and see if you can get an instinctive feel for what your body is wanting. What I would listen to, however, is general nourishment advice. I think it’s really helpful to try and eat a broad range of fresh fruit and vegetables of all different colors and textures. And I just like the idea of variety in general. So if you look for advice on nourishing your body and nourishing you as a whole person, I think that’s possibly got some weight to it and some value. And sure, research nourishing recipes. And notice I’m not saying healthy, because I think healthy is a very loaded word. It’s about nourishment, what nutrients and what nutritional value are you really putting into your body because your body does need nourishment.
So yeah, think about how you’re nourishing your body. And if you’ve got questions about nourishing the whole person, it’s got nothing to do with your tinnitus or vertigo or any diagnosis for that matter. It’s really about nourishing you and then intuitively listening to your body.
Any specific advice for runners in terms of head movements and also dizziness that sometimes comes at the end of a run?
So my first response to this question is it’s not really about running or any activity. Every single person will feel what they feel in any given moment and they’ll have to find a way to acknowledge and meet that and be with that and be real about it. Because if we’re falling into this trap of dismissing and pushing through and minimizing, we’re really just not attending to the body. We’re not being responsive and we’re not taking care of ourselves to the level that the body’s asking for. The body’s bringing these sensations up and it’s saying, “Hey, tune in. Attune to me. Listen to me. I need help regulating. I need your help.” So it doesn’t really matter whether you are running a flight of stairs, running a marathon, or even if you are practicing piano and you’re a concert pianist and you’re starting to get symptoms because you’re doing really long practice sessions and the body’s beginning to disregulate.
So it’s not about what you’re doing. I think it’s more about what you’re sensing and feeling and how you’re responding to that, how you’re supporting it. So my advice with regards to head movements and dizziness would be something along the lines of keep your head movements as natural as possible. Anytime we’re rigid or stiff, it just leads to so many other problems, aside from maladaptive dizziness strategies and potentially creating more of a vicious cycle, it can also lead to postural issues, neck, headache, migraine, you name it. So keeping your head movements and your shoulder movements and your neck positions as loose and relaxed and natural as possible.
And what I would say is when you’re out and about, look at what you want to look at, stabilize your vision, find things that please you. So because we’ve got this example of running, if we’re out on a run, rather than being freaked out and worried about dizziness, actually look for things on your run that bring you pleasure. Find ways to relax into the run, to soften your footfall, and to let your eyes naturally move. If you see a bird or you see a car or you see someone with a really nice jacket you like, allow yourself to have that natural flow and playfulness in your posture. So that would be number one is keep your head and neck movements as natural as possible and follow pleasure. Allow your gaze to go where it wants to go for the sake of it.
And the second piece would be anytime that you’re feeling dizziness, whether it’s after a run or after a piano practice or after love making, after a good giggle, it could just be that the nervous system has dysregulated a little bit, or it could be that there is a bit of a cluster and the resources within the brain and the body are very busy, you can think of it as traffic jams, and so there is a bit of temporary dizziness as the body is recalibrating and finding its equilibrium. It’s nothing to worry about. You don’t need to change it. You don’t need to rush it. I would probably move you in the direction of the module three home exercises. And that gives you some good tips and tools on how to be off balanced, be imbalanced, and re-find that steadiness and how to do that in a really structured, gentle, safe way, and make a practice of learning how to lean in toward dizziness and imbalance, but then also how to recenter and re-find balance.