psychological trauma and physical illness

I read an article recently called “6 Bodily Tissues that can be Regenerated by Nutrition“, which discusses the issue of tissue regeneration and how modern pharmacological and surgical intervention ignore to a great extent the simple fact of the process of the natural regeneration of body tissue. This made me think that trauma must be a major factor in the degeneration of body tissue, or the interruption of this natural regenerative process.

The mind inhabits the body, and the body is a reflection of the mind. The psychological splits that happen as a result of trauma happen in the body. They are held in the body by the millions of small muscular contractions, many of which, after the trauma is past, do not release or relax back into their original state. Our body, to someone who can read it such as an experienced osteopath, chiropractor or physiotherapist, is a reflection of our trauma history. The body bears the burden of the psychological processes of trauma, and trauma work must in this sense be bodywork.

“… [trauma] therapy needs to consist of helping people to be in their bodies and to understand their bodily sensations. And this is certainly not something that any of the traditional psychotherapies, that we have all been taught, help people to do very well.” (van der Kolk, 1998)

“Trauma is a psychophysical experience, even when the traumatic event causes no direct bodily harm.” (Rothschild, 2000)

After a situation that is stressful, even one that is a high stress situation, the system can still usually regain its equilibrium, which means that the body can relax the tension. Situations of continued high stress such as ongoing childhood abuse and neglect are likely to include moments of trauma, from which the system cannot regain an equilibrium. As we have seen in the article ‘what is trauma?’, we can only maintain a state of high stress for a short time, since the extreme hypermobilised stated of the system will become a threat to our life in itself if not interrupted. It is proposed that at the point at which the hypermobilisation becomes too threatening to our survival, where the high stress strategies of ‘fight or flight’ have not resolved the situation, the system tips over into the trauma state.

In the trauma state we dissociate from the experience and split it off from conscious in order to survive the ordeal, and from this we cannot regain our previous non-split state.











In the diagram we can see the increase in stress levels, and the point at which we tip over into the trauma state, which is a state of disintegration, the state of the splitting of the psyche.The unbearable experience of the trauma is split off and made unconscious, with the survival self emerging as a new ‘self’ whose only task is to keep the trauma out of consciousness. From this moment on we are always split into the three parts of the unconscious traumatised part, the new surviving self and our original connection to our healthy self. These three entities live out their existence dependent on how safe we feel in any particular situation. You can find out more about these split parts in the article entitled surviving after trauma.

The body, after a trauma that involves the psyche, a psychological trauma, is the means by which we hold the trauma experience unconscious. To split off the experience of the trauma and ensure that it doesn’t re-surface takes energy, tension, muscular contraction and constant vigilance. The split psyche is not just a concept… it is a physical reality, with physical consequences.

A question is: how much might a physical symptom actually be a symptom of the stress of trauma survival? How much may the physical ailment be a strategy of survival that, over time, has coalesced from the psychological and physical stresses of maintaining the splits into a gross detectable illness? In my view it is possible and necessary to consider the potential contribution of unresolved trauma in any physical ailments, even if the particular illness is generally thought of as a genetically transmitted condition.

The stress on the body of having to contain the unresolved trauma could be the source of many physical ailments. It must have an effect on our ability to throw off infection, our natural immune system, and on our natural ability to regenerate tissue.

There is so much work to be done, so many areas that it would seem beneficial to introduce ideas on trauma.

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