The Body Keeps the Score: How Trauma Hijacks the Nervous SystemFeb 27, 2023
“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” (p.97)”
― Bessel A. van der Kolk
"The body keeps the score." This phrase, coined by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, has become something of a rallying cry for those in the trauma field. In his book, "The Body Keeps the Score", van der Kolk uncovers the insidious ways that trauma can hijack the nervous system and wreak havoc on our lives.
Drawing on the work of Peter Levine, Dan Siegel, and contemporary neuroscience, van der Kolk weaves together a comprehensive understanding of how trauma gets stored in the body and what we can do to release it. He also introduces us to polyvagal theory—a game-changing framework for understanding how the autonomic nervous system regulates our emotions and behaviors.
If you are a coach, therapist, or psychologist working with clients who have experienced trauma, this book is a must-read. In it, you'll find a wealth of information about how trauma affects the brain and body, as well as practical tools for helping your clients heal.
Photo credit: Mark Williams @ Unsplash
How Trauma Affects the Brain
One of the most important things van der Kolk teaches us in "The Body Keeps the Score" is how trauma affects the brain. One of the key ways trauma does this is by altering our fight-or-flight response.
When we experience a traumatic event, our sympathetic nervous system goes into overdrive and we become hyper-aroused. This is essential for survival; it gives us the energy and strength we need to fight or flee from danger. However, when this response becomes chronic—as it does for many people who have experienced repeated trauma—it takes a toll on our physical and mental health.
In addition to changes in our fight-or-flight response, trauma also alters our ability to regulate our emotions. This is because our Amygdala—the part of the brain responsible for processing fear—becomes hypersensitive after we experience a traumatic event. As a result, we may find ourselves feeling constantly on edge or hypervigilant, even when there is no real threat present.
Finally, van der Kolk explains that trauma can also cause changes in brain structure and function. Studies have shown that people who have experienced trauma have smaller hippocampi (the part of the brain responsible for memory) and greater activity in their amygdalae than those who have not experienced trauma. These changes can lead to problems with memory, concentration, and mood regulation.
Practical Tools for Healing Trauma
In addition to providing readers with an in-depth understanding of how trauma affects the brain and body, van der Kolk also offers practical tools for healing trauma. One of these tools is storytelling—a technique that has been used successfully by indigenous cultures around the world for centuries.
Storytelling helps us make sense of our experiences and integrate them into our lives in a healthy way. It allows us to process difficult emotions like anger, sadness, and fear while still maintaining a sense of connection to others. When we share our stories with others who understand what we're going through, we can begin to feel seen and heard—two essential ingredients for healing from trauma.
In his groundbreaking book "The Body Keeps the Score", Dr. Bessel van der Kolk uncovers the insidious ways that trauma can hijack the nervous system and wreak havoc on our lives. Drawing on cutting-edge research from contemporary neuroscience, van der Kolk provides a comprehensive understanding of how trauma affects both the brain and body. He also offers readers practical tools for healing from traumatic experiences—tools that are grounded in traditional wisdom practices like storytelling. If you are looking for an insightful and informative guide to help you better understand and support your clients who have experienced trauma, "The Body Keeps the Score" is a must-read.
Photo credit: Joice Kelly @ Unsplash
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