How Does Trauma Cause Pain?

Emotional trauma can create bodily pain to someone who is suffering. If your kid has been through troubling or threatening experiences, they may develop physical manifestations of their emotional turmoil. To understand why this phenomenon occurs, you need to understand critical concepts regarding “flight or fight” responses and the “mind-body” connection. Let’s explore these concepts to build a greater understanding of trauma and pain. To further explain this phenomenon, listen to “How Trauma Causes Pain” on the “Beyond Risk and Back” podcast. Fire Mountain’s Aaron Huey discusses trauma and pain with Dr. Bennet Davis. 

The Flight or Fight Response

Human beings have powerful survival instincts. You are the result of a long history of survivors facing multiple threats within the environment. When faced with a threat, your body responds with a “flight or fight” response. The risk can be anything that can damage your body, mind, or emotions. When dealing with a threat, your central nervous system quickly assesses the danger and prepares you to either take action against the threat (fight) or run from it (flight). The response kicks into gear quickly, without your higher-order brain functions weighing in on the decision. When faced with an immediate threat, you don’t have time to weigh your options, brainstorm, or do any of the processing of your executive brain functions. You must act quickly to survive and get away from harm.

The Mind-Body Connection

Your mind and body have a strong connection. Many trends in treating mental health include treating your physical health simultaneously. Holistic (or “whole-body”) treatment of mental health issues includes learning exercise routines and healthy nutritional habits. How you feel physically affects how you feel mentally. When you feel sick with a cold, you often feel somewhat depressed or “down” in your mood. The mind-body connection also works the other way, meaning that you often feel better physically when you feel mentally healthy. For example, high levels of stress can weaken your immune system, and an anxious mind can impact the body’s ability to obtain restful sleep. 

The mind-body connection is also at work regarding trauma and physical pain. Traumatic experiences create a disconnection within the mind that manifests as bodily symptoms. The flight or fight response is activated to survive the threat; however, the brain remains “frozen” in this state. When the brain cannot communicate within itself between lower-order and higher-functioning areas, your mind will begin to “reorganize” itself. During the process of re-organizing, your body will create false signals. These signals generate phantom pains within the body. From the sufferer’s perspective, this pain appears real and seems to exist in bodily tissue; however, there is no physical body damage.

Healing From Trauma and Pain

When your child feels pain due to trauma, they might reach out to drugs, alcohol, or other means of distraction. For your child, the pain is real and physical. The best way to heal this pain is to address the trauma as the brain rewires itself. Your child’s nervous system is overreacting due to a flight or fight response that worked in the moment they experienced the traumatic event. When a new threat presents itself, whatever worked to minimize the danger the first time becomes strongly reinforced within the mind and the individual responds the same way as before. Trauma is an adapted response to survival; however, the continued response in such an extreme fashion to anything resembling the trauma can severely affect your child’s quality of life.

Healing from trauma means shifting from a “threat adapted” mindset to a “peace adapted” one. The process of treating trauma involves reconnecting the communication between low and high-order brain functions. Your child can benefit from spending time in a safe and supportive place to heal. The mind needs to experience safety to understand that everything will turn out alright. Our brain’s survival mechanisms are powerful and can take some time to recover. However, there are effective treatments that can accelerate the process. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has been effective in healing trauma. EMDR helps to retrain the brain to feel safe while reorganizing disruptive beliefs formed due to trauma. 

Being around people who have experienced similar types of pain can help to escalate the process. Your child might feel safer around others doing similar trauma work. Your child deserves to live a full and happy life free of trauma-related pain. By healing in a safe space, your child can relearn how to feel secure in the world. Trauma work can take time; however, hope and recovery are possible for your child!

Our response to traumatic events is rooted in survival. A threat puts us into a position where we must either fight or run away. Even when we survive the danger, our minds and bodies become wired to respond on high-alert. If our kids experience trauma, they might have physical pain as a result. Trauma affects both the body and the mind. The brain needs to rewire itself and learn how to make the body feel safe again. The healing process takes time, and during that time, the brain sends false pain signals to us. We might feel like we have a stomach ache or other pain as our nervous system heals. If your kid has experienced traumatic events in their life, their trauma can be treated in a safe space. They may need to work through their issues in a supportive environment with other kids sharing similar experiences. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center can help your kid heal from trauma. We use EMDR and other techniques to help kids heal from trauma. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.

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