The trauma you never notice.
For my entire life, anytime I heard the word “trauma” I understood it to mean only significant and devastating life events related to war, terrorism, natural disasters, physical abuse or things like that. Things that tend to make it into the news headlines, that generally affects only certain “other” people. It never occurred to me that we all experience trauma and that I was accumulating years worth of it without even knowing.
Does this following scenario sound familiar to you? Anytime something difficult happens in your life, people might offer supportive words or help and you answer that “oh, I’ll be ok, I’m fine, this is nothing really, there are so many people who go through so much worse. I’m quite lucky really”.
If so, join the club.
I certainly believe gratitude, positivity, strength and grit are valuable, but should never be at the expense of acknowledging the difficulties we experience in our lives.
We talk about stress a lot these days, we’ve come to understand what may cause a lot of our stress (our busy lifestyles, the pressures and demands of work and raising a family and so on, global pandemics, the news etc), but aside from medication or meditation, we’re not given the essential tools to deal with it. Though 2020 may start to show some change, we still live in a society that expects a lot from us and it’s not always possible to change or remove the causes of our stress.
There are so many new “fixes” or “hacks” that people try to sell us to deal with stress, but I feel like we are just dancing around the issue. It’s like just shooting arrows around a mysterious target – the key to dealing with our stress – trying to get at the solution, but totally missing it.
What we don’t seem to talk about so much is trauma, what it is, how to recognise it and what to do when we actually experience high emotional states related to it.
I’ve never had the need to consider medication for my stress or trauma, however, I know many who do. I can see how it is so useful, particularly in the short term. But I would personally want a long term solution that really gets to the core so that there is no need for chemical dependency at all.
Meditation and all the other techniques out there all still deal with the mind. But I’ve always been frustrated with all these techniques because if you ask me – my mind is exactly the problem. It always finds a way to get involved in everything.
Give me something I can practise and apply on my own, without having to go to a therapist every week. Remove my dependency on others, give me something I can do when life hits me hard and I don’t have time to find help. And show me how I can support others when they experience trauma.
I was raised to be strong and independent and have built a reputation of being the rock to lean on in a storm. In my corporate life, management would call me “stoic”, a “stalthwart” and I have written reports from people from various parts of life saying things like “nothing ruffles this girl’s feathers” or “she has very thick skin”. I’ve even taken pride in this persona that has been built around me.
But I have never been able to fully recognise and deal with my own stress. After 40 years of unacknowledged trauma it was no wonder I had a crisis and an awakening – which are both different sides of the same coin in my opinion. It was both terrifying and exciting in equal measure.
I studied psychology at university and have maintained an interest in understanding “the self” from all different angles. I spend a lot of time in self-study of philosophy, psychology, spirituality, history, religion, bodywork etc. I assumed, incorrectly, that just because I understood the theory around things like stress and the “fight or flight” response and so on, that I therefore understood all there was to know to be useful.
I have never found psychotherapy useful. I’ve had it twice in my life, with two very different therapists, but I found it deeply unsatisfactory. I’ve seen an empath (that WAS helpful). I practise meditation, reiki, occasionally dabble in yoga, get massages, I’ve read A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle and practise mindfulness regularly, I’ve run away from problems – changed jobs, moved countries even. I’ve tried past life regression, spiritual healing, positive thinking, art therapy. None of these things has fixed anything, they’ve simply opened doors. I’ve enjoyed it all (except the psychotherapy). I’ve enjoyed the self exploration and I think it is all valuable.
But it has always felt like there was something just out of reach that I was searching for.
TRE (Tension & Trauma Releasing Exercises)
In 2019, I stumbled upon something called TRE (Trauma Releasing Exercises) in my search for exercises to help my lower back pain. I have by now probably bought and read every book written about back pain, I’ve seen physiotherapists, osteopaths, acupuncturists, none of it really helps me in a lasting way. Something told me there was something more going on with me as my back seems to misbehave dependent on my level of stress & anxiety. An inner voice kept nudging me to find out more about TRE.
It turns out TRE has helped alleviate my back pain almost entirely, but actually more important was what else I discovered in the process.
I have always felt nothing but peace and deep relaxation when doing the exercises. It also helps me become more closely connected with my body – which seems odd, I was unaware I felt a stranger to it. It also made me aware of how much tension and trauma I have been storing up all these years, I only feel it because of how much I feel I release during and after a session.
These exercises are not the same as yoga or other bodywork, though they complement TRE well.
What is TRE®?
TRE is about honouring your body’s fight, flight, freeze response and allowing your body to do what it needs to do, in a safe and controlled way. It involves following several exercises to help induce a natural and involuntary tremor in your body. This helps discharge stress and trauma naturally.
When we experience extreme stress, our body often naturally begins to shake and tremble, this is our body’s natural way of processing and releasing all the hormones and chemicals rushing around our body. As children we do this more naturally, but as adults we suppress it for fear of looking weak. Think about when you get up on stage to give a presentation, or at a job interview, and how you might shake with nervousness. When you experience something frightening, or some kind of adrenaline rush, you might shake afterwards. This is natural, it is good for you. Unfortunately most of us have it conditioned out of us, just like showing any kind of emotion, and instead we build up a lot of the stress and trauma in our bodies. It’s no wonder we often encounter health issues that appear to have no obvious cause. I have had many.
TRE engaged my interest so much so that I have now started my journey to become a TRE provider so that hopefully in 2021 I can help share this with others.
The exercises are easy, but it’s not simply about the exercises. I would strongly recommend only ever doing it with a trained provider to begin with. Here’s why.
What are the benefits of TRE?
Possibly the most valuable thing I have learnt through the training I have completed so far, is self-awareness and slowly coming to understand my body, my trauma and how to self-regulate whenever I feel stressed.
My trainer, Lori Ann from Your Freedom Within describes how the process is like slowly opening up a bottle of soda after it’s been shaken. You need to do it gently, gradually and in a controlled way so that it is released properly and safely. Like a bottle of soda, you have no idea how fizzy it is inside until you start to open it slowly.
I love how Dr David Berceli, the founder of TRE, refers to us as human organisms because our minds and bodies are not separate things, they work together in synergy.
I think the reason traditional talking therapies, by which I mean psychotherapy, hasn’t been useful for me is because by replaying my old stories, I just further reinforce the trauma and my “sad story”. Our minds are so powerful that we can create and recreate trauma simply by playing our stories and fears over and over again in our minds.
TRE helps me bypass my ego, my mind and to process and release my stress and trauma directly through my body, as we were designed to be able to do. This then relieves and calms my mind so that the old tapes don’t keep replaying.
It doesn’t mean you have to forgive and forget your past if you don’t want to, but you certainly learn to process it biologically so it no longer continues to be a cause of stress or anxiety.
How does TRE make you feel?
Whenever I do TRE I feel a great release of tension from my stomach area, which is where I know I store my stress. Sometimes it feels like someone has lifted a bowling ball out of my stomach and it feels so light and spacious inside me afterwards. I feel more grounded, relaxed and I sleep so deeply afterwards.
I still feel emotion and stress, I still get annoyed, I still have my triggers. Stress is a fact of life. But I am aware of it, I am not scared of my emotions and I know what to do when I am triggered or something stressful happens.
Interestingly I’m also slowly beginning to remember more about my past. It’s weird how little I can remember about my life. Up until I met my current partner, so much is sketchy. I remember key headlines, but it’s like I was so happy to get beyond the unhappy times that I literally forgot it all. It’s nice to be able to look back at memories that I’d forgotten and just know them, without any of the emotional baggage.
I only wish we had learnt this at school so that we could have had the ability to cope with the trauma we experience in life, even when we are not intellectually able to understand the world around us. Perhaps this is something that will someday be offered in schools, as I see it as an essential life skill.
Are there any requirements to learn TRE?
It requires no religious belief, no intellectual understanding, you do not need to be fit. I would say it should be at the centre of any holistic approach to life. If you do have PTSD or any other serious health concerns, then as always you must always speak to your doctor first. But there are no prerequisites to learning TRE, it is literally for every human being.
Where to find out more
If you are curious, then I can highly recommend Dr David Berceli’s excellent and easy to read book that explains the theory and shares the exercises. Or you can find an official provider in your area on the www.traumaprevention.com website.