When we are faced with a threat, the nervous system goes into red alert. It’s called a stress-response. Once the threat has passed, the energy of the event will be discharged and released from the body.
This is what extinguishes the trauma.
For example, when the hawk swoops down and catches the bunny, the bunny is helpless. There’s nothing it can do. If can’t fight. It can’t flee. As a result, the body goes into a freeze response.
If the hawk fumbles, and the bunny manages to escape, once the threat is gone, something very interesting happens . . . The bunny will remain limp. It will lie still and rest for a while. Then, after a while, the body will start to quake.
This quaking will gradually become more intense.
The movements will get larger. What’s happening is the body is releasing the energy from the nervous system.
If the legs start jerking that’s the body completing the movement of running. It’s discharging the energy that didn’t get released because the bunny couldn’t take action to run away.
We do the same thing.
When we’re not able to run or defend ourselves, there’s a freeze response. This locks the energy into the body. We then discharge the energy through a sort of epileptic quaking movement.
At least, we should.
The problem is that humans have an evolutionary disadvantage when it comes to traumatic experience. We think.
We tend to use thinking to override our feelings. Rather than allowing the body to do what it was designed to do, and discharging the energy of the event, we hold onto it. This locks it into the body. Then we try to use reason and logic to deal with the traumatic memory.
This just never works.
This freeze response that locks the energy into the body is called “kindling.” We call it “sensitizing.” A traumatic event sensitizes a person to specific triggers which can then re-stimulated by subsequent events which act as reminders of the kindling event. We call that event the Initial Sensitizing Event (ISE).
The unprocessed energy of the event is still there, trapped in the body. All you need to do is poke a stick at it, and it will reactivate the stress response. This is because it’s not gone. It’s still in the body!
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