moved to heal
movement for healing & resilience


what is it and how does it affect us?

About trauma

We’re living through a time when the word trauma is used colloquially: folks are beginning to recognize that living through a pandemic or fleeing war is stressful –traumatic. Along with recognizing the traumas we can see, we are beginning to recognize the need to heal, and at the same time, not every traumatic event a person experiences will have long-lasting effects or be labeled trauma. Sometimes one might have the resources needed to heal in a relatively short period of time: for some, an example of this could be grieving the loss of a loved one over the course of a year or two.

Traumas can also overwhelm a person’s ability to recover through this “normal process” of accessing immediate resources and giving yourself time to heal. Trauma can interrupt a peron’s way of being or cause “permanent” adaptations, altering “a person’s biological, psychological, and social equilibrium to such a degree that the memory of one particular event comes to taint, and dominate, all other experiences, spoiling an appreciation of the present moment” (Herman, 1992).
Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life. …

The ordinary human response to danger is a complex, integrated system of reactions, encompassing both body and mind. Threat initially arouses the sympathetic nervous system, causing the person in danger to feel an adrenalin rush and go into a state of alert. Threat also concentrates a person’s attention on the immediate situation. In addition, threat may alter ordinary perceptions: people in danger are often able to disregard hunger, fatigue, or pain. Finally, threat evokes intense feelings of fear and anger. These changes in arousal, attention, perception, and emotion are normal, adaptive reactions. They mobilize the threatened person for strenuous action, either in battle or in flight.

Traumatic reactions occur when action is of no avail. When neither resistance nor escape is possible, the human system of self-defense becomes overwhelmed and disorganized. Each component of the ordinary response to danger, having lost its utility, tends to persist in an altered and exaggerated state long after the actual danger is over. Traumatic events produce profound and lasting changes in physiological arousal, emotion, cognition, and memory. 
- from Trauma & Recovery by Judith Herman (1992)

Complex trauma

Complex trauma is relational, often childhood trauma.

In addition to traumas associated with war and natural disasters, childhood trauma shows up as adversity within family, community, and systems. The symptoms of childhood trauma are often misattributed; the trauma remains hidden or unacknowledged or not given credit for being as impactful as it is, even as the disorienting effects loom large in the lives of individuals and their communities.

Certain traumas we recognize as being adverse at any age, such as war, violence, natural disasters. In some cases, caretakers can mitigate the effects of these experiences for their children, by providing reassuring distraction, comforting re-framing, and confident protection from harm. As an example, a mother fleeing Russia’s senseless war on Ukraine in March 2022 made a point to pack her car with lots of treats to supplement her four-year-old kids’ favorite toys. “I hope they don’t remember this day as war; I hope they remember lots of cookies” (Tavernise et al., 2022). In an absurd and dire situation, she’s doing what she can to provide a feeling of safety within the family environment. The children will no doubt live with the effects of the war as they grow, but perhaps the day of fleeing won’t remain a haunting experience for them.

Kids can be shielded from the long-lasting effects of some traumatic events by their caregivers. And some childhood experiences that may not seem to require the label trauma from an adult perspective (whether because it is no longer critical in the adult years or because it is behavior that the adult lived through themselves and sees it as “normal”) can have serious adverse effects in the life of the developing child with long-lasting consequences for health, productivity, and well-being.

What we know about complex trauma is that the symptoms that arise in the aftermath can disrupt functioning well into adulthood and pervade all domains of a person’s life. When our self-protective capacities are consistently overwhelmed by repeated exposure to trauma it can be toxic to our bodies, and survivors often find themselves in a cycle of hyperarousal and dissociative numbing. The experience of complex trauma and resulting autonomic instability can lead to a feeling of being out of control within one’s own body and life. Trauma survivors describe intolerable physical sensations and somatic complaints, problems with affect and impulse regulation, deficits in attentional capacities, poor interoceptive awareness, and negative self-perception. 
- from Trauma-Sensitive Yoga in Therapy by David Emerson

trauma affects children

One thing adults fail to do for children is recognize that they have stress… the kids experience traumatic things that may not seem really big to us, but are important to them, and it could hamper their success.
- from "Resilience" movie 
When you are abused you feel small, even smaller than you are. … That was my experience as a child. I wanted to be small and invisible if possible. I wanted not to be seen, and I constricted.… I'd say the sense of being able to open up in this way physically [in yoga], as simple as it sounds, especially the upper part of my body--heart, lungs, diaphragm, shoulders-- all the parts that I had scrunched down, that seemed to make a difference. It allowed an overall expansion. … People are noticing it clearly. I have been invited to do more things. People seem interested in me in a different way. There is something that has changed because people are coming closer to me. I am able to tolerate that better. I am reaching out more in ways that I couldn't have done.
- Research participant, Rhodes 2015

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