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Trauma – Is it Different Form Normal Stress?

When does stress start?

Stress starts at a very early age, generally between the ages of zero (in the womb) up until six years of age. This is the prime time for children to be downloading the programs they need in order to survive on this planet. The unfortunate thing is that due to the limitations of the abilities of some parents, children can pick up negative programs as well as positive programs. So, what this means for you when you are an adult, is that you keep repeating these earlier patterns of negative behaviour, because they have been ingrained into your psyche at this early age. (We will discuss more of this in later chapters.)

Why does stress start?

Stress starts because the child is unable to respond to an adult’s dialogue, and express his/her opinion satisfactorily. Any emotional charge over the issue which has not been discharged, will be stored within the psyche. If the parent says to the child: ‘You have muddied your dress. You naughty little girl. You will never amount to anything.’ What is happening for the child is that, due to the fact that she is unable to say what she thinks or fully express herself, she stores this memory somewhere in her body/mind and then attaches an interpretation, and a meaning, to this event. For example, the child might say to herself: ‘My mother said I was no good therefore forever more I will interpret these types of events or examples as me not ever being good enough or worthy of receiving any good in my life… forever!’

So, in summary:

what this means is that your current stress started when you were a child and you continue to react and respond to situations in a similar manner, unless and until you choose to do something about it.

What is stress? Is trauma different from stress? How does it affect your reality?

When you have a stress response your body is telling you that you are in danger and that your survival is being threatened. The emotion around this is one of fear. Fear restricts us and puts our body into a forced position of survival. Survival mode tends to shut down and hold our stress deep within our bodies as we prepare for the worst. The actual physical position that we assume is one of contraction whereby the top and the bottom of the spine tend to bend forward in order to protect our face, neck and stomach areas. The muscle involved in that contraction is the psoas muscle. So, when in the act of responding to a stressful event we automatically engage this muscle. By default, the emotion attached the to stressful event can be stored within that muscular area. Also, too, the psoas retains the memory of that event and tenses or tightens. When this muscle tightens it is telling the brain that we are still in danger. So, what this means is that the brain will continue to send signals and activate the adrenals and cortisol on an on-going basis, until we can relax this muscle. Tight muscles are signalling the brain that we are still in stress. So, you can see how powerful a little TMJ exercise is in letting you know that you are stressed.

Similarly, stress is a body/mind response to an actual or perceived threat. It is holistic in that the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels are involved. It is individual. You see, it does not have to be a real threat, it can be imagined.

Each person responds to a stressful event differently, based on their make-up and life experiences. It has been found that the basis of ALL stress is a person’s underlying negative beliefs, negative emotions and patterns of behaviour. It has now been proven that your beliefs change your biology. (Dr Bruce Lipton). Your genes and your DNA were originally supposed to be the cause of all of your good and bad points. This is no longer the case. Your genes encode your inherited physical appearance. However, it has been found that you now have total control over 95% of your biology, your behaviour, your health, and how you perceive the world, through the sensory information you receive that is transmitted to the cells. Because the cells contain the stored memories of these unexpressed emotional events, this then influences the interpretation of that information at the cellular level, and hence controls your biology.

Only 5% of all disease is actually inherited in that you have a specific gene or defect that creates this disease. So what this means now is that your health is in your control. It means that your cells and how they perform is influenced by internal and external information being processed in your own body/mind. It is not your mother or your grandfather, or your sister. It is you, altering the course of your destiny, with every bit if information interpreted within. Your BELIEFS and how you perceive certain events that happen to you are what causes your cells to adjust how healthy they are. You have total control over your body/mind.

Now. True. Your belief programs have been downloaded by watching your parents or primary care-givers, and because you did not have control consciously over how you responded to these events or that you could effectively express your feelings during those early years, you have not had the ability to change those programs ever since that time. However, in general, we have not altered our programming, because mostly we were not aware of how effective these early programs were
in controlling our lives. Knowing this now means that you can do something about this.

These negative programs have created negative beliefs within. These negative beliefs stem from the fact that we were, at an early age, not able to fully express how we felt about what was happening to us when an adult said something negative to us. Because of this we have held our unexpressed feelings within our body/mind, festering and creating havoc throughout our lives.

At an early age our stress response mechanism took over and reacted automatically for us. When we felt we were threatened and our safety was impinged, our autonomic nervous system took over for us and went into either flight or fight mode. We either stood our ground and fought back or we took flight and stored the stressful issue in our memory banks, along with the unexpressed emotion, which eventually becomes like an electric charge. So, what this means is that when an event that looks or sounds like one of these unexpressed emotional events reoccurs, we continue to respond exactly the way we did initially. In effect, our adult responses can be similar to our childhood responses. That is what is driving our communications today, unless and until we deal with the underlying beliefs. Most people do not know this. They continue to blame their parents or others for their distress.

Now. The other event that could happen when a stressful event occurs is that the stress response mechanism could stall in what is known as a “freeze” position. What this means is that the body/mind has become so overwhelmed that action is not able to take place. The child/adult essentially freezes and cannot make a decision about what to do. This can result when the person has had so many stressful negative events that have occurred in their lives that they default to a state of “helplessness”. When a person feels “helpless” they feel they cannot make a decision as they have learned that these types of events lead to trouble, or them not being able to make a difference to the outcome, no matter what action they take. They have learned to respond in a passive way.

When a person experiences trauma, it has been assumed that they are experiencing something deeper than stress. Trauma signifies that its effects have a deeper and more significant and more lasting effect on the body/mind than stress. Psychologists agree that trauma results in a “freeze” state of mind. It also results in a state of helplessness. Helplessness, to my way of thinking, is when a child is unable to express itself when it is aged 0 – 6. It does not have the conscious capacity to respond effectively and be able to express how it feels. Because of this the child would necessarily feel “helpless”. So, to my mind, the effects of stress on children between the ages of 0-6 years, is all trauma, irrespective of accepted definitions.

The Psoas

As mentioned in an earlier chapter on stress what happens physiologically when a stressful event occurs is that the psoas is one of the major muscles affected by your response to stress.

We respond to a stressful event or trigger physiologically as if our very survival is being threatened. What we do, sometimes subtly, is we crouch or bend the body forward in order to protect our face, neck and abdomen. The muscle that activates that automatic response is the psoas muscle. So what that means is that the action of crouching entails bending the top and the bottom of the spine forward in that protective stance. The psoas muscle then tightens. So, what this means is that in the very act of responding to a threat to our survival, together with the emotion of fear generated, this physiological and emotional stress becomes stored in that tight muscle. A tight muscle then signals the brain that we are still in survival mode and are being threatened. This signals the brain that we are still stressed and hence the stress response mechanism will remain open and our body will be affected by adrenaline and cortisol on an on-going basis. Until we can release the emotion and release the memory we will not be able to release the stress. We can do both of these things when we release the psoas muscle.

So, the important point here is that tight muscles, particularly the psoas, tells our brain that we are still in danger. Also too, any kind of pain in the lower or middle back or hip area will cause shortness of breath. If the hips or the psoas are tight then this could detract from being able to lie correctly or even be able to sleep.

The other aspect is that the danger position that is triggered as a response to stress, the foetal position, is a place we can get locked into. Being locked into a particular physical position such as this not only signals the brain that we are still in stress and danger because our survival is being threatened, it also means one of our most widely used bodily positions, the act of sitting, can also signal the brain that our bodies are stressed. So that is really bad news for everyone who sits at a desk all day. Sitting, because it is like the foetal position, tells the brain that our muscles are shortened and tight and therefore we are under threat.

What happens when you sit for long periods of time is that various tendons and muscles become shortened. When they are shortened this pulls the psoas forward, compressing these tendons in the hip joints. This makes our hips unstable and our body structure, our spine moves out of its’ correct position. When these are unstable it also affects our legs and feet. They move or rotate because of the unstable hips. This then not only leads to lower and middle back problems and pain, but also to knee and feet pain. Then there is a decrease in circulation and blood flow to these areas. This structural imbalance is caused by the lack of flexibility in the psoas and other muscles and tendons. So what people do to overcome this structural imbalance is that sometimes they over-develop the quads and the upper thigh muscles. They think that this is a way to lessen the pain in these areas.

So, the act of sitting for long periods of time encourages and maintains a state of stress in our psoas.

The other aspect of what happens is relation to the psoas is that when a stressful event occurs, notice how we gasp for breath instantly and we often go into a period of shortness of breath after the event. If you are experiencing stress on a daily basis this means that you will eventually get into the habit of breathing that way. Because the psoas has shortened the diaphragm it then shortens the breath. Because the psoas crosses the third chakra area and in this area is the diaphragm which is connected to the psoas, it is the psoas that is actually contracting and restricting the movement of the diaphragm and this affects your breathing.

To combat stress, the psoas needs to be in optimal condition. If your muscles are already tight then these muscles are the first to be affected by stress and the last to let go after the stressful event. It becomes and habitual response, a pattern.

We need to move but in certain ways for the psoas to be released. The body loves to move and you will look and feel healthier when you add more movement to your life. If you have tension anywhere in your body this is a sign that you also have a corresponding emotional issue attached to that tension. Tight hips tell the brain that you are in danger and need to stay in the survival mode. It says that you are in danger and therefore you need to crouch over into the foetal position in order to protect yourself. Sitting reminds the brain of this foetal position. This constant forward movement not only compresses the muscles and tendons it also squashes the gut area and you can find that you will have digestion problems as well as other gut issues because of this restricted movement of the hip flexors and the psoas due to this constant sitting position. This tight psoas can be very draining and can exhaust us as it affects our breathing and therefore we are not getting sufficient oxygen into our bodies to help fuel it.

So, locked into this contracted psoas and our hip area is the emotion of fear. When you release the hips you will eliminate any unnecessary fear. It is a vicious circle, fear puts us in a forced position of survival and survival shuts down and holds stress within that area, as we prepare for the worst. How we approach fear and the body’s reaction to it can be reduced and significantly improved through the release and repair of the psoas. In step 1, REPAIR, we firstly repair the autonomic nervous system and retrain one aspect of our subconscious mind through the act of better breathing. By association we will be helping the psoas as well. However, we will still need to do specific exercises to make sure that all of the release work has been done. So, you can see how important this muscle is to your overall wellbeing.

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