In working with clients with trauma, I talk often about the effects of experiencing trauma and holding unprocessed trauma in the body on the body and physical health. Trauma affects all parts of the mind and body and unprocessed trauma can manifest as many physical illnesses and symptoms. The “bible” of my practice is the book The Body Keeps The Score by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk and I recommend it to anyone who has experienced trauma in their lives.
I work with adult women with trauma and have found that unrpocessed trauma presents in their bodies in repetitive, similar ways. The symptoms and illnesses they have are repeated from client to client to client. In my experience, women hold unprocessed trauma in areas of their body that can be tied directly to their trauma some of the time. Such as a client with sexual abuse can have body issues represented in their reproductive and genital regions that result in symptoms and illnesses related to those areas. But not always is it tied directly to the area of trauma and not all trauma people experience is physical. A great deal of trauma is emotional and mental that can represent in the body in all sorts of ways.
However, most of my clients present with similar body presentations related to their unprocessed trauma experiences. Neck, shoulder and upper back pain is almost universal. Very tight neck and shoulder muscles, sometimes as hard as rocks, resulting in back pain related to these tightened muscles. Another almost universal presentation is headaches, many times migraine headaches. Most of my clients experience some type of headache on a daily basis.
Sleep issues are also almost universally common. They can range from not being able to go to sleep, not being able to stay asleep, waking up often in the night, dreams and nightmares. Many of my clients state that they d not have restful sleep and always feel tired which then affects how they feel in their entire bodies over the course of the day.
Digestive issues are also very common among my clients. These issues can range from irritable bowel syndrome, to poor absorption issues, to ulcers, to eating disorders and more. Most of my clients state that they have some sort of digestive issue and many are on medications for those issues to try and manage them but they are still present.
Reproductive issues are also a common issue. Everything from difficult menses, to extreme PMS, to ovarian cysts, PCOS, and genital area issues such as repetetive yeast infections and unexplained pain. Many of my clients struggle with fertility issues and issues with intimacy.
Musculoskeletal issues are also very common. Unexplained body pain, inflammation, soreness. Issues such as chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia are very common. My clients often say that their bodies just hurt all the time and there is no diagnoses just the pain.
The ongoing hypervigilant state of many people with trauma also contributes to a constant fight or flight anxiety that their bodies experience all the time. This state leads to an increased production of adrenaline and cortisol that affect many of the body’s areas and systems.
Many people will say that these types of issues are common amongst all sorts of people, which is true, but my belief is that most people have some sort of unprocessed trauma in their lives that leads to many of these issues. It is too repetitive and too often repeated from client to client to client to be coincidence or just something people have.
Again, I highly recommend that people read Dr. Van Der Kolk’s book if they have experienced trauma as it is so very helpful to understand how what we have experienced has affected all of our bodies and minds. Trauma in the body is a very real and often very painful thing and understanding why and beginning to work to process the reasons can improve not only our mental health but our physical health.
Until next time be well.