How to navigate well-being when you are traumatized

Wiola Rebecka:

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Trauma can happen to everyone; sometimes, trauma related to sexual violence changes our entire existence; nothing is the same after sexual abuse. Often survivors of sexual violence say, “My body does not belong to me anymore”, so let’s try to take the first step to know ourselves again.


When you start to get to know and understand your nervous system, you realize that you are not oversensitive, overly needy, inexplicably restless, too sad, or co-dependent; by learning about the dynamics of your nervous system, you can begin to see yourself as a person with a system that is prepared for dangers and trying to provide you with predictability and security. The feeling that there has been a war with your nervous system is well known to all who begin to understand the work of neurophysiology and its impact on reacting in a certain way, mainly without the participation of specific rational thinking. The thrill of regulating your emotions without holding your nervous system is doomed to failure. This aspect is crucial in all therapeutic schools; understanding our neurophysiology dynamics helps us be more effective therapists and psychoanalysts, especially in crises and the post-crisis period. Dysregulation can make you feel overworked, anxious, disconnected from reality / dissociated, closed, or numb. It is essential to realize that these are adaptive responses of the nervous system that are sensitized to danger signals, sometimes perpetuated by entering a matrix from previous periods of chronic stress or trauma. Sometimes what happened in the past affects neuroception. 


Neuroception is the neural circuit that determines what is safe and threatening. Neuroception is the reverse of perception, which may be rational thought; neuroception activates processes in the brain beyond the rational consciousness. Recognizing whether people and places are safe helps survival and is an unnecessary adaptive function in the path of evolution. In fact, it is our secret weapon to function in reality. Recognizing and navigating who is safe begins at the level of listening carefully to the sensations flowing from the body. These are the first information our neuroception sends out, trying to inform us about the impending danger. Our nervous system knows before our minds formulate the thought of the threat. This process happens in primitive parts of the brain outside of consciousness. The fact that we don’t understand is not a problem; the body and our nervous system know and realize that we may be in danger. Sometimes you hear “why I didn’t listen to myself. I felt something was wrong; my gut told me this from the beginning”; this is the knowledge of neuroception. 


To survive the threatening situation, the nervous system performs changes that can lead to freeze, fight or flight reactions to deal with a trauma situation. These responses are automatic and adaptive. Knowledge about the action of neurophysiology helps in the process of recovering from trauma. It helps recognize both automatic reactions in the body and psychological ways, which can be helpful, e.g., cooperation in cooperation of the body-mind over time experience of arousal or real opportunities we have in the context of trauma overload. For example, the expectation to think logically is absurd in the freezing process. In a situation of escape, we cannot build interaction with others; fighting is not the time to be friendly or nice. By getting to know your nervous system, you are building your effective defense system and strengthening one’s psycho-physiological resistance. Long-term experience of complex trauma causes changes in the neuroception system, and the possibility of adequate hazard recognition for the nervous system is disrupted if not achieved in regulating the nervous system after experiencing trauma. 


The nervous system may be more sensitive to danger/signals that trigger the so-called triggers. In such a situation, it is impossible to make rational decisions, and decisions about going into a state of fight, flight, or freezing are not rational. They are never the fault of a disordered person. Shame and guilt disappear when we recognize our unique nervous system patterns that arise under the influence of stress and trauma. It is easier to understand that being in a disturbance is like most okay; it’s easier not to shudder when you’re restless, locked up, or need help from others to help you feel safe again. 


Understanding the autonomic system strengthens awareness and gives you time to slow down and react rather than react reflexively. Teaching how to become a supportive friend to yourself when you are degraded and depressed is the first essential step on the way to self-regulation. Being unregulated is not psychopathology; it can stand in the way of retraumatization. 


Learning how to self-regulate your nervous system is essential for working with trauma. Contact with the body is the first step; it would be interesting if you were caressing your head with tenderness; think about what you thought of as stupid, strange, a shame, etc. 


Research shows that tender gestures reduce tension in the body by 75%; sometimes, they can tenderly behave differently towards us, but it is much more important to be sensitive to yourself, especially when experiencing dysregulation after trauma. Learning tuning to neuroception and understanding ways to survive in The nervous system that regulates our internal movement, we can use effective self-regulation tools that bring you back to internal state security and confidence in yourself and the world. The more you endeavor and practice, the more the individual changes the system of neuroception. The number of false alarms decreases activations that trigger the freeze, fight, or flight reaction. Restoring and teaching sensitivity to people after complex trauma is one of the most effective techniques for sensation recovery.

Our body belongs to us, and our nervous system is the best friend ever; however, we need to learn to talk in the same language to make this friendship fruitful.

Photo Credit: Wiola Rebecka.

About the writer:

Wiola Rebecka is a psychoanalyst at the International Psychoanalytical Association Women’s Institute Therapy Centre NYC. She is also the author of the book “Rape: a history of shame. diary of the survivors”.

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