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Updated: Jun 2

This ‘Truly Healing Trauma’ series of articles explores the increasingly public topic of trauma, defining what it is, what types there are, and what we can do to truly heal it.


This introductory article offers a foundational understanding of what trauma is from a physical, emotional, and psychological perspective. In simple terms, trauma is the experience of stress and distress at levels we are unable to manage.


In psychology, we describe the stresses and strains of modern life as occurring within a ‘window of tolerance’, where we have the capacity to deal with the highs and lows everyday life throws at us. If we have experiences, either as a single event or recurringly, that take us beyond what we can cope with, we go beyond the limits of the ‘window of tolerance’ into either hyper- or hypo-arousal.


Hyper-arousal is another term for our ‘fight/flight’ instinctual responses when we feel threat or danger. In these instances, our nervous system activates, our systems produce chemicals such as adrenalin and cortisol to provide the appropriate fuel for the body to survive, our heart rate increases, breath quickens, and so forth.


In hypo-arousal, we go into a ‘freeze’ state, we become numb and disconnect from our bodies, often entering what is called a ‘dissociative state’. This state psychically protects us when we are in situations where we cannot fight or flight. Our physical systems replicate this shutting down, ‘playing dead’ state.


Our bodies are designed to respond to danger by adopting these survival strategies, however once the danger is over, animals in the wild generally shake off the shock and release the trauma out of their system. However, we as humans tend not to this, instead harbouring the effects of these distressing events in our nervous systems, impacting our physiological systems, creating imbalance and disease over time if left unaddressed.


To live in an activated or shutdown state affects our mood, sleep, vitality, and productivity. It increases the risk or anxiety and depression (and suicidality) as well as a wide range of adaptive behaviours resorted to as coping mechanisms.  Moreover, people who experience some form of trauma tend to not feel safe in the world, as bad things have happened in the past, they doubt that things are going to work out okay for them. Unresolved trauma can create a vicious cycle of social isolation and a breakdown in relationships resulting in loneliness and a sense of despair.


The good news is that it is possible to truly heal all types of trauma, and over the subsequent articles we will discuss the different presentations of trauma, with a ‘Big T’ and a ‘little t’. As the impact of trauma is held in the body, it is possible to locate it and support the body to release it. It simply a matter of – you have to feel it to heal it.


To find out more about the 10-week Trauma Counselling Programme offered online and in-person (currently in Belfast, UK) by Dr Janet Williams, please click on the link below.









Hi,I'm Dr Janet

This space will introduce my work and present my most recent themed learning all about trauma 

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