The following article is an edited version of the plenary presentation at Dr. Rolf’s 40th Year Celebration of her work at the Rolf® Institute of Structural Integration in Boulder, Colorado in October 2011.
We have all been traumatized, some more than others. Trauma is not special … it’s part of the lived experience. During my thirty-three years of clinical experience, I have witnessed that traumatic wounding is at the heart of most human suffering and that everyone in the field of structural integration (SI) needs to know how to work with it. My hope is that this article will evoke a deeper understanding of what trauma is while providing strategies for its resolve.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is a Greek word for injury, wound, pierce, damage, or defeat. Sigmund Freud, in 1914, defined trauma “… as a breach in the protective barrier against stimuli leading to feelings of overwhelming helplessness.”1 Susto is an ethnomedical condition common to Latin America and is described as an illness or ‘fright paralysis,’ also known as soul loss resulting from a traumatic experience. We have all witnessed the ‘deer in the headlights’ frozen look or experienced feeling ‘scared stiff.’
Kinds of Trauma:
Generational trauma may be passed from generation to generation in self-perpetuating cycles that are hard to break. It can be transmitted by social learning in the family and community, and growing evidence shows that it may also be inherited epigenetically in the expression of the genes and from before conception in genomic imprinting. Family Constellation Therapy developed by Bert Hellinger and shamanic rituals from various indigenous cultures may provide an opportunity to liberate oneself from the suffering of the ancestors.
Conception shock, or first union, occurs when the sperm (issues of the father) penetrates the ovum (issues of the mother) creating the potential for a new human identity. One’s conception could be unwanted by both or either parent due to a myriad of circumstances.
Implantation trauma, or second union, occurs seven to nine days after conception as the ovum attempts to ‘attach’ to the uterine wall. The degree to which the mother desires a child (how much her body aids and/or resists implantation) and any attempt to abort the embryo will leave an imprint on the whole being.
Intrauterine trauma can take place during the full term of uterine life (nine months). The mother’s psycho-emotional life directly imprints the developing embryo/fetus for better or worse as does any toxic or noxious substances that she ingests.
Birth trauma is damage to the tissues and organs of an infant caused by mechanical forces during childbirth, often accompanied by impaired blood circulation and organ functioning as well as hypoxia. The most frequent and significant birth injuries are to the skull, brain, and spinal cord, the severity of which usually distinguishes spontaneous birth traumas from those of an obstetric nature such as injuries from the use of forceps or vacuum extraction.
Attachment disorders take place during the pre- and perinatal phase of development. This is also known as the ‘maternal attachment period’ when the developing human requires the full attention of the primary caregiver for survival (last trimester until two years of age).
Emotional, psychological, and physical traumas are persistent throughout one’s life.
Soldier’s heart, also known as war trauma, leaves the warrior with symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, cognitive impairment, etc.