What is Trauma?


What is Trauma?

 Trauma = Feeling of Helplessness

For survivors of extreme trauma, those experiences can have long-lasting effects on their physical and mental health, but an emerging field of genetic research is finding that these physiological changes can also be passed onto the next generation.

Scientists who study these changes, though, are careful not to view them as entirely negative.

“We have to be very careful about how we talk about generational effects. A lot of people want to say generational scars, but they’re merely effects,” Rachel Yehuda, a professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, said in an interview with On Being.

Yehuda’s work has focused on the children of Holocaust survivors and the children of women who were pregnant during the 9/11 attacks. She became interested in epigenetics—as the science is known—early in her career and early in the history of the field.

Epigenetics is the study of changes to genes or the environment of DNA that affects how the DNA is read into RNA, which is then turned into proteins that determine the functioning of the body. With epigenetic changes, the genetic code—the DNA sequence—is not altered, but the shift in how the genes work can have major effects on the body.

“The environmental influence has been so overwhelming that it has forced a major constitutional change, an enduring transformation,” said Yehuda, “and epigenetics gives us the language and the science to be able to start unpacking that.”

In some cases, these changes can be passed onto the children. With Holocaust survivors, the genes that are affected are ones involved in the body’s response to stress. This supports the finding that children of Holocaust survivors are three times more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder than other Jewish people whose parents did not go through the Holocaust.

If you are the child of someone who has undergone a severe trauma, the knowledge that your parent’s suffering has affected you at a very basic level may not be very reassuring, but Yehuda sees it differently.

“Just because you’re born with a certain set of genes, you’re not in a biologic prison as a result of those genes,” she said. “Changes can be made to how those genes function that can help.”

Epigenetics allows people to understand better where these effects on their body are coming from, which can be empowering in itself. But Yehuda’s research has also found that the genetic effects can go both ways, with psychotherapy leading to other kinds of epigenetic changes.

“If we’re saying that environmental circumstances can create one kind of change,” said Yehuda, “a different environmental circumstance creates another kind of change.”

Reference: https://www.scienceandnonduality.com/genetic-changes-carry-traumas-effects-across-the-generations/




Country Well-being Varies Greatly Worldwide

by Melanie Standish and Dan Witters

Panamanians have the highest well-being globally; Syrians and Afghans, the lowest.

This article is the first in a series of three articles exploring worldwide perceptions of well-being in the five well-being elements of the Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index: purpose, social, financial, community, and physical.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- One in six adults worldwide are considered thriving -- or strong and consistent -- in at least three of the five elements of well-being, as measured by the inaugural Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index in 2013. Residents of the Americas region are the most likely to be thriving in three or more elements (33%), while those in sub-Saharan Africa are the least likely (9%).

Elements of Well-Being -- Worldwide and by Region, 2013

Each element of well-being is important on its own, but the elements are also interdependent and well-being is more than the sum of the elements. That only 17% of residents in the 135 countries and areas surveyed are thriving in three or more elements underscores how most of the world is struggling to achieve high well-being.

More adults globally are thriving in community well-being (26%) than in any other element. Residents in the Americas region, with more than one in three (37%) thriving, are most likely to be thriving in this element. Adults in sub-Saharan Africa are the least likely to be thriving (18%).

Fewer adults globally are thriving in purpose well-being than in any other element. Adults in Asia, as well as the Middle East and North Africa, are least likely to be thriving in this element (13% in each region), while those in the Americas again top the list of regions, at 37% thriving in purpose well-being.

Global Well-Being Index Largest Recent Global Study of Well-Being

The Global Well-Being Index is an extension of more than six years of research and 2 million interviews in the U.S. through the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. The Global Well-Being Index is a global barometer of individuals' perceptions of their well-being and is the largest recent study of its kind. Data collected in 2013, across 135 countries and areas, and with more than 133,000 interviews, have been compiled into the State of Global Well-Being, a comprehensive report presenting the global demographics of well-being. The Global Well-Being Index is organized into the five elements:

  • Purpose: liking what you do each day and being motivated to achieve your goals
  • Social: having supportive relationships and love in your life
  • Financial: managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security
  • Community: liking where you live, feeling safe, and having pride in your community
  • Physical: having good health and enough energy to get things done daily

In analyzing the results of the index, Gallup classifies responses as "thriving" (well-being that is strong and consistent), "struggling" (well-being that is moderate or inconsistent), or "suffering" (well-being that is low and inconsistent).

Thriving Rates Highest in Latin American and European Countries

Adults in Latin America are most likely to be thriving in well-being in three or more elements as well as across elements. Latin Americans generally report higher levels of well-being than any other regional group. This is consistent with other Gallup World Poll research that shows residents of Latin America generally evaluating their lives more highly than those in other regional groups, partly reflecting a cultural tendency in the region to focus on the positives in life.

Thriving in 3+ Elements of Well-Being -- the 10 Highest Countries, 2013


Panama leads not only the region, but the world in four of the five well-being elements -- purpose, social, community, and physical well-being. Sixty-one percent of Panamanians are thriving in three or more elements, 17 percentage points ahead of its second-place neighbor, Costa Rica (44%). Panama's strong and growing economy, an unemployment rate of 4.5% in 2013, and national development may be the most significant factors contributing to its high thriving levels.

Financial well-being is the only element in which other countries' residents top Panama's. Swedes lead the world in financial well-being, with 72% thriving. Financial well-being is high across a range of northern and central European countries, including Austria (64% thriving), Denmark (59%), and the Netherlands (56%).

All Elements of Well-Being -- 10 Highest Countries, 2013


Only five countries outside of the Americas and Europe regions have levels of thriving within an element that rank in the top 10 of all countries -- Bahrain in financial well-being (48%), Saudi Arabia in community well-being (43%) and physical well-being (39%), Malta in social well-being (47%), and Sri Lanka (50%) and the United Arab Emirates (49%) in community well-being. No countries outside of these two regions finished in the top 10 in thriving in three or more elements.

Sub-Saharan Africa Least Thriving Region

Adults in sub-Saharan Africa are the least likely to be thriving in three or more elements of well-being (9%), in addition to their low levels of financial well-being (9%), social well-being (16%), community well-being (18%), and physical well-being (20%). Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Chad, Madagascar, Uganda, and Benin residents have some of the lowest levels of thriving in the world. Most of these countries are plagued by war, political turmoil, low levels of development, and endemic corruption. DRC, for example, has been embroiled in nearly continuous conflict since 1996, and is rife with political instability.

Although subjective well-being is dire in many sub-Saharan African countries, the situation is worse in Afghanistan and Syria. In 2013, just 1% of Syrian and Afghan adults were thriving in three or more elements; the two nations share the lowest well-being of the 135 countries and areas in the 2013 survey. Both countries are conflict zones. By the end of 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimated that 6.5 million of a total population of 22 million Syrians would need humanitarian aid, and 4.25 million of those would be internally displaced.

Thriving in 3+ Elements of Well-Being -- the 10 Lowest Countries, 2013


Afghans are also awash in uncertainty about the country's future security situation and its relative stability once foreign aid and investments level off. In a 2013 Gallup World Poll survey, more Afghans said their standard of living was getting worse than in any year since 2008, and most Afghans (61%) said it was a bad time for them to find a job. Against this backdrop, Afghans are the most likely of any population in the world not to be thriving in any element of well-being (75%).

Thriving in All Elements of Well-Being -- 10 Lowest Countries


Objective measures including GDP, life expectancy, and employment statistics are important and useful in assessing a country's "success," as are historical trends over time. However, the concept of subjective well-being encompasses the broader aspects of a life well-lived.

Gallup and Healthways research has shown that people with higher well-being are healthier, more productive, and more resilient in the face of challenges such as unemployment. People with higher well-being bounce back faster, are better able to take care of their own basic needs, and feel better able to contribute to and support the success of their organizations, communities, or countries.

Subjective well-being does not necessarily correlate with GDP, the presence of conflict, or other absolute indicators. Residents in poor countries may report that they have high well-being in certain well-being elements while those in wealthy countries may report that they have low well-being in particular elements. War-torn populations such as those in Syria may have extremely low well-being, but low levels are also found in countries that are relatively stable, such as Croatia and Italy.

There are policy implications for country leadership, development organizations, employers, health insurers (private and governmental), and others in the well-being status of their constituents. For example, Mexico has relatively high physical well-being scores. However, the country overtook the U.S. in 2013 as the most obese country in the Western Hemisphere and grapples with a high rate of diabetes. Diabetes and heart disease are the two most common causes of death in Mexico. While the physical well-being element captures more than just obesity, the high scores on this element in Mexico reveal areas where education is needed to help the population become more aware of health and healthy behaviors, and make better choices.

Because subjective well-being can correlate with outcomes such as healthcare costs, productivity, and business performance, world leaders should consider well-being, in addition to objective measures such as GDP, to provide a better picture of progress toward specific policy and development goals.

Access the full State of Global Well-Being report and 2013 data.

Survey Methods

Results for the Gallup-Healthways Global Well-Being Index are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews on the Gallup World Poll, with a random sample of approximately 133,000 adults, aged 15 and older, living in 135 countries and areas in 2013.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is less than ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level. For results based on country-level samples, the margin of error ranges from a low of ±2.1 to a high of ±5.3.

All country-level analyses use country weights. Global and regional analysis uses projection weights that account for country size. Minimum sample sizes of N=300 apply.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

Each element in the Global Well-Being Index contains two questions asked of all respondents:


  • You like what you do every day.
  • You learn or do something interesting every day.


  • Someone in your life always encourages you to be healthy.
  • Your friends and family give you positive energy every day.


  • You have enough money to do everything you want to do.
  • In the last seven days, you have worried about money.


  • The city or area where you live is a perfect place for you.
  • In the last 12 months, you have received recognition for helping to improve the city or area where you live.


  • In the last seven days, you have felt active and productive every day.
  • Your physical health is near-perfect.

Reference: http://www.gallup.com/poll/175694/country-varies-greatly-worldwide.aspx


In the following video, we see a trauma response in the way the young girl responds to the gunshot. 

The Gunshot Holds No Fear -  Trauma Response


Study: Cognitive Regulation Fails Stress Test


study published by the National Academy of Sciences has challenged the assumption that we can “rethink our feelings” under stress. After analyzing their results, the researchers chose a title for their work that tells you exactly where they stand: “Cognitive emotion regulation fails the stress test.

Here at the Somatic Experiencing® Trauma Institute, we absolutely believe, as one of our practitioners recently termed it, that “to get to emotional regulation, you need to go beyond cognitive.” In other words, when faced with real pressures of trauma and stress, we can’t simply think our way around or through them. Prevention and healing of unhealthy traumatic responses requires a convergence of mind and body, to say nothing of our more ephemeral facets. It is not merely a chore for the brain.

The researchers of this 2013 study, representing five different institutions from NYU to Stanford, noticed that cognitive regulation only seemed to work in theory, or in the lab, but not so much in real life. So they set out to put it to a stress test. For those interested in the methodology, the study might be summarized as follows:

  1. Participants received “fear conditioning,” learning the difference between two forms of stimuli they would be encountering: one negative and one neutral.
  2. Immediately after, they all received cognitive regulation training, learning to consciously regulate their fear responses.
  3. The next day all participants undertook a “fear conditioning task,” an opportunity to test their new regulation training. Notably, some had been pre-stressed while others, a control group, encountered the task unstressed.
  4. The researchers confirmed fear arousal via skin conductance (sweat output) and fear response via certain enzymes and hormones in the saliva, generally accepted as markers of stress response.

The results showed that, when facing fear-inducing stimuli, those individuals who were not stressed did benefit from their new skills but those under stress saw no benefit from the cognitive regulation training. The researchers concluded: “Stress markedly impairs the cognitive regulation of emotion and highlights critical limitations of this technique to control affective responses under stress.”


Learn How to Unlock Tissue Memory

Many scholars believe that pain and trauma are incidents prevented from being completed. These can be single damaging events such as a car accident, continuous bombardments requiring emotional defenses, or over-training of isolated muscles that lock the body into a recognized pattern. Traumas can be considered anything that keep us locked in a physical, emotional, behavioral or mental habit. Recovery from trauma is the process of the body finding balance and freeing itself from constraints. All too often, the recovery process is halted, preventing the traumatic occurrence from completing.

There are many reasons traumatic incidents cannot be completed, creating stagnation and causing a cascade of physiological protective mechanisms to separate the trauma from affecting everyday functioning. Because our bodies and emotions can only safely handle a limited amount of stress, trauma results whenever an experience exceeds our abilities to handle and cope with its consequences. The energy of the trauma is stored in our bodies' tissues (primarily muscles and fascia) until it can be released. This stored trauma typically leads to pain and progressively erodes a body’s health.


Emotions are the vehicles the body relies on to find balance after a trauma. Feelings represent the accumulation of incomplete events and the body’s attempt to complete them. By strengthening our inner resources, we are capable of processing these feelings, releasing stored traumas, and increasing our ability to handle stress with greater ease.


When trauma occurs, our bodies activate a protective mechanism. A stressor that is too much for a person to handle overloads the nervous system, stopping the trauma from processing. This overload halts the body in its instinctive fight or flight response, causing the traumatic energy to be stored in the surrounding muscles, organs and connective tissue. Whenever we store trauma in our tissue, our brain disconnects from that part of the body to block the experience, preventing the recall of the traumatic memory. Any area of our body that our brain is disconnected from won’t be able stay healthy or heal itself. The predictable effect of stored trauma is degeneration and disease.

Memory Beyond the Brain

 There is ample scientific evidence proving memory storage in locations other than the brain abound. Three examples of the body containing extraordinary memory capabilities are:

  1. Immune system response is enhanced by memory T-cells maintaining information about previous attacks by specific foreign antigens.
  2. Muscle memory improves the ability of top class sports people and musicians to perform optimally even under extreme pressure.
  3. Genetic research has demonstrated that the matrix composing our body’s cells (DNA) possess a complex information storage system.

When considering the vastness of our body’s intelligence, it is no wonder that our muscles and fascia are capable of holding memories.

Unlocking Memories

Three things are necessary for the body to release stored trauma:

  1. The inner resources to handle the experience that were not in place when the experience originally occurred.
  2. Space for the traumatic energy to go when released. Being full of tension and stress does not allow space for the stored trauma to move into.
  3. Reconnection of the brain with the area of the body where the trauma is stored.

Combining bodywork with verbal therapy can successfully bring a trauma to completion. Many types of verbal therapy are ideal for the development of a person’s inner resources for handling a traumatic experience. Certain bodywork styles effectively reduce stress and tension levels making room for release as well as function to reconnect the brain with the stored trauma.

Bodyworkers play a key role in bridging locked memories with the physical body. The techniques known as myofascial release or myofascial unwinding are hands-on methods for initiating traumatic memory release. Myofascial work locates and physically frees the restrictions in muscle and surrounding fascial tissue that house traumatic memories. As a skilled therapist holds and unwinds these tissue tensions, memories may surface and release, causing the body to spontaneously “replay” body movements associated with the memory of the trauma. This release initiates relaxation, unlocking the frozen components of the nervous system. Such a shift marks the reconnection of the brain with the tissue housing the trauma, allowing transformation and healing to ensue.

PTSD and Combat Veterans

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of combat veterans returning home that are now suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is diagnosed when one has experienced, witnessed or felt threatened by a traumatic event, experienced the signs and symptoms of PTSD after the event for more than one month and are demonstrating avoidance behaviors evading anything or anyone who reminds them of the event(s). Many returning service men and women are suffering the symptoms of PTSD which also include an inability to feel positive emotions, emotional numbing, a sense of hopelessness, lack of interest, memory problems, relationship problems, angry and aggressive outbursts, guilt and shame, and hypervigilance (always on guard). Symptoms also include distressing memories, bad dreams, flashbacks and emotional distress.

It is not unusual for these veterans to be easily startled or frightened, and even lapse into a “flashback” event under the right set of conditions. PTSD symptoms can vary over time and become intensified when the person experiences a “trigger”. Because this condition is so closely associated with anxiety – and in fact anxiety is a symptom of it – massage is an excellent method for relaxation. However, many of these combat veterans experience physical stress when touched, or upon waking up and therefore massage therapy can just as easily become a PTSD trigger. It is important that you discuss PTSD symptoms with the client who suffers from this condition to learn their triggers and ways to avoid them. It may be as simple as softly telling the client when you are moving to the next body area or leaving more lights on in the room. The client may be dealing with severe anxiety and feel the need to watch you as you work. They may need every ambient noise identified throughout the session. The range of symptoms and emotional stressors and triggers can vary greatly.

Many PTSD sufferers turn to drugs and alcohol as a way to self-medicate, which can become problematic. There are many viable options available as treatment for PTSD including cognitive and exposure therapies, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications.

Seeking Support

Bodyworkers utilizing myofascial release techniques practice within the illuminating space between physical and emotional health. While developing the emotional resources to cope with a traumatic experience is best reserved for those specifically trained in verbal therapy, bodyworkers can effectively fill the gap of total health in traumatic recovery. As psychological counseling is beyond the scope of practice for most massage therapists, it is recommended to practice release techniques with a client who has sought, or is currently seeking support from a mental health professional. Meeting all three of the components necessary for unlocking and healing from stored trauma combines the work between client, mental health professional and bodyworker. With this holistic approach, traumatic events can go to completion, allowing the body to once again find balance.

Source: http://www.integrativehealthcare.org/mt/archives/2007/04/understanding_a.html


For additional information on trauma and the biodynamic breath, Walking The Tiger by Peter A. Levine provides a great informational resource.


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