“We must learn how to turn off our intense reactions and regain control of ourselves so that we can process painful memories without being overwhelmed.” (1)
Many of us have been through trauma in our lives, whether as a result of an accident, a crisis, or a traumatic encounter. So what happens once the trauma is over? How can we move on and recover from this? Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s book, When “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Transformation of Trauma” (2), attempts to address this issue and investigate how we might heal the scars left behind by traumatic experiences.
Top 5 Points of the book:
- Trauma is stored not only in the mind, but also in the body.
- The body keeps track of traumatic events, which the individual can sense but often cannot articulate.
- Trauma has a significant influence on both physical and mental health, as well as actions, emotions, and beliefs.
- Understanding trauma’s long-term effects on physical and emotional well-being, as well as taking steps to address these effects, is necessary for healing.
- It is possible to learn how to regulate one’s intense reactions so that traumatic memories can be processed without becoming overwhelmed by them.
The book explores the science of trauma and explains why some people can cope with its aftermath while others suffer from long-term mental health issues. The author is able to draw both personal and scientific conclusions about trauma healing from interviews with many survivors. He advocates for a holistic approach that combines talk therapy with body-focused treatments like psychomotor therapy and yoga.
Trauma is stored in the body through physical sensations. This could look like tense muscles, increased heart rate, and or difficulty breathing. Emotional memories stored in the nervous system trigger these physical sensations. Trauma can also have an impact on one’s mental health, causing anxiety, depression, flashbacks, and other problems.
In order to manage trauma-related triggers in daily life, it is important to recognize the physical sensations associated with trauma so that one can address them as soon as they appear. It is also beneficial to develop strategies for actively managing trauma-related triggers such as relaxation techniques and grounding exercises.
New research reveals how experiences can be passed down through generations due to DNA changes. An epigenetic study is a type of scientific investigation that focuses on changes in gene expression caused by non-DNA sequence-based changes. These changes occur as a result of a variety of external and internal factors, such as environment, lifestyle, stress, and diet. Epigenetic studies use techniques like DNA methylation and histone modification to determine how these changes affect gene expression and cellular function. Scientists are learning about how an individual’s environment affects their health and development through this research.
Around ten years ago, they electrocuted a group of male mice at the same time that they introduced a cherry blossom scent, and the mice began to exhibit fear and anxious behaviors in response to the smell of cherry blossom. The mice were then allowed to reproduce. Those babies who had never met the male mice displayed the same fearful behaviors as those who had been electrocuted, despite it never happening to them. Some of their grandchildren also displayed the same behavior. All of this to say that generational trauma exists… and the health of your grandfather or father at the time of conception may be affecting you now. (3)
“Trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain and body.” (4)
Overall I believe that this is an informative and meaningful resource for anyone seeking to recover from trauma and regain emotional balance. I would suggest pairing it with someone that can help you walk through and process emotions while you are unpacking past events.
“The body keeps the score of traumatic events — something we can sense but cannot readily articulate.” (5)
If you are sucked into these concepts like I am… I recommend trying “Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma” (6) by Peter Levine next. While both books examine the impact of trauma on physical and mental health… Each book approaches the subject in a different way. The Body Keeps the Score focuses on recognizing the long-term impacts of trauma and how to address them with appropriate assistance, whereas Walking the Tiger focuses on how to manage intense reactions in order to process painful memories without getting overwhelmed.
(1) A., Van der Kolk Bessel. “Chapter 9.” Essay. In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2015.
(2) A., Van der Kolk Bessel. Essay. In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2015.
(3)Lewis, Tanya. “Fearful Experiences Passed on in Mouse Families.” LiveScience. Purch, December 5, 2013. Last modified December 5, 2013. Accessed March 26, 2023. https://www.livescience.com/41717-mice-inherit-fear-scents-genes.html.
(4) A., Van der Kolk Bessel. “Chapter 5.” Essay. In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2015.
(5) A., Van der Kolk Bessel. “Chapter 1.” Essay. In The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 2015.
(6) Levine, Peter A., Peter A. Levine, and Ann Frederick. Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2023.