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Trauma - Frozen Body "Snapshots"

May 21, 2019



"The bodies of traumatized people portray "snapshots"

of their unsuccessful attempts to defend themselves

in the face of threat and injury. 

Trauma is a high activated incomplete

biological response to threat, frozen in time."

~ Peter Levine ~



"Snapshots"  We take them all the time, capturing meaningful moments in our lives.  We share them with our friends and loved ones in an attempt to give them a glimpse into our lives.  We look back at them in our photo books (or on our phones) and, immediately, memories surface and feelings of the experience come rushing in. 


Body "snapshots".  Think about your first romantic kiss.  Does your body responds to the thought?  Remember the worst argument you ever had with someone.  Yep, a different response inhabits your body.  Because we give meaning to certain moments, our thoughts and emotions capture experiential "snapshots" within our body.  We 'share' these moments through our body language - holding our head up up high, drooping our shoulders, a lightness to our step, a heavy heart.  Our bodies reveal our experiences, as does the language we use to describe them.  Traumatic experiences are no different - we think about them, re-member them, and our body reacts.


The one huge difference with traumatic experiences is we don't share.  We don't give glimpses into this part of our lives.  We don't talk about being sexually abused as a kid, or being married to a violent partner.  We don't share what it's like being an addict or living with one, or the horrors we experience as a soldier.  There is a part of us that wants, even needs.  But, somehow we believe, maybe even know, that these experiences somehow make us less than, vulnerable, shamed, like we failed.  If only we could have been successful at thwarting the abuse, defending against the attack, protecting ourselves. 


"Trauma is a high activated incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time."



Trauma is highly activated.  Until the original trauma is resolved, integrated, so many triggers - smells, sounds, colors, textures, a look, voices, words, phrases, specific people, places, events, body positions - have the power to return us to the state we felt then. 


Trauma is an incomplete response to threat. Of course it is!  What power does a child have against an adult who is abusing them?  What power does a woman have to thwart a rape?  What power does a soldier have to go against the orders given to him?



Trauma is in the body, biological. We lock trauma away somewhere in our body - the pain in our neck, the chronic bladder infections, being accident prone, even heart disease, diabetes, cancer.  Locking it away give us hope, hope that the memories will go away, that we can move beyond survival, that we can live a 'normal' life.  Our body continues to hold out the possibility that transformation can happen, will happen, if only we will let it.


Trauma is frozen in time. We identify as the abused 5-year old, the battered wife, the soldier with PTSD, the victim.  Without the ability to fully respond at the time, our emotional waters freeze.   There is no end to the 'what if', 'why me', 'if only' thoughts that run rampant. The paradox here is that we always seem to be running, running away and running to.  But, our running is actually just skating on thin ice that could crack in any moment.


The power we embody in any traumatic event comes from our will to survive. 

Yes, our will to survive. 


Our true hope, deep within, is that we can grow beyond the pain and hurt, heal, and even succeed and thrive.  To heal the broken and bruised part of our self requires...

  • Courage to identify as the fighter so we can see what needs to be seen; as the warrior so we can do what needs to be done, and as the victor so we can celebrate each moment we make the choice to think, feel, and act in a different way

  • Readiness to face our biggest fears and actualize our biggest dreams

  • Willingness to imagine the best thing that could happen and expand into the life we desire and deserve

  • Ability to accept and even design passion, beauty, joy, and greatness into our lives

It's time to thaw the frozen waters, to invite time to start ticking again, to spring clean our biology, to learn self-defense, and to LIVE in the present moment, fully integrating with all that we have experienced and all that we are.



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