Sometimes I forget how universal trauma is to all living beings. Even horses can have trauma. One of them being our big guy, Jack. The way that I have seen trauma play out in him is also a reminder that trauma lives in the body.
Trauma is any experience where the sensory information registered by the brain is arrhythmic. Chaotic, jarring, shocking, violent, harsh… these are the opposite of predictable, patterned, repetitive which Dr. Bruce Perry states are essential to trauma healing.
The thing is the brain is actually connected to our whole body with neurons in our stomach and heart and all through our body connected to our vagus nerve. One book that shows how much trauma impacts all of our self is “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk. It shows how the body can hold memories of trauma which impact so much of our daily lives.
This is how he describes trauma in the book:
“We have learned that 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. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”
Trauma lodges within our body and can get trapped causing all kinds of issues. Van Der Kolk also states:
“After trauma the world is experienced with a different nervous system. The survivor’s energy now becomes focused on suppressing inner chaos, at the expense of spontaneous involvement in their lives. These attempts to maintain control over unbearable physiological reactions can result in a whole range of physical symptoms, including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, and other autoimmune diseases. This explains why it is critical for trauma treatment to engage the entire organism, body, mind, and brain.”
You may have guessed it… Equine-assisted therapy is body-based! The experiential nature of working with the horses and the attuned feedback they give us about our body and emotions helps us to make great strides in healing trauma.
In 2018 Jack suffered a bought of Lyme’s Disease. Something that is very common in our area. He was so sore and could barely walk most days. After lots of treatment and loving he is back to mostly normal. However our farrier pointed out last year that Jack’s hoof shows the record of this trauma. That line in the middle shows the arrhythmic growth of his hoof during that time of stress. His body was keeping the score!
How can this concept show up with our kiddos?
The need for therapy the address the body and not just talking about trauma is explained deeply in The Body Keeps the Score. Doing this helps our child’s emotional and behavioral health for sure.
There are many other ways the body shows up as a result of trauma. Apart from many physical symptoms such as tummy issues that show up with stress in the moment, other autoimmune diseases are more prevalent among children and adults who’ve experienced trauma. (See the ACE study for more information)
There are also occurrences of heightened stress around trauma anniversaries. Taking note of the time of year your child was removed, experienced loss, or other marked incidents can help to explain an increase in behaviors around that time. Psychology Today* cites a study from research at Stockholm University who studied parents who lost a child and they had an increased risk of dying of a cardiovascular event during the anniversary week of that death. I know personally as foster parents we have noticed increased stress during the time week of removal in later years.
Keeping the brain, body, emotional connection in mind can help us be more understanding and compassionate to ourselves and our kids!
ACE Adverse Childhood Experiences Study: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.html