We also see trauma affecting other systems in the body. The hormones that regulate our fight or flight responses often become stuck, flooding the body unexpectedly. A survivor’s body may be full of trapped energy. This over abundance of adrenal hormones wears on other systems. One theory of understanding trauma’s physical affects is called Polyvagal theory. This refers to the two vagal systems that run throughout the body. These are located above and below the diaphragm. We experience these systems as the difference between something making one’s heart pound or breathing increase versus something being “gut-wrenching.” If the upper vagal system has been affected by trauma, directees may suffer from a lack of prosody, poor face to face gaze, flat facial affect, sound hypersensitivities, and inappropriate posture during social engagement. If the lower vagal system has been affected, we may see poor mood and affect, atypical state regulation, a low threshold to become fight or flight, a low threshold to become dissociative, lower gut problems, or fibromyalgia.
Understanding these effects of trauma can help us to be patient and compassionate in meaningful ways with our directees who have survived trauma. Incorporating grounding experiences, recommending practices that help with brain health (for example, coloring), being sensitive to the frustrations that come with lack of language and so perhaps offering Visio Divina over Lectio, all of these are ways that we can compassionately care for the whole of our directees as they begin to heal.
The Body Keeps the Score, by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk
In An Unspoken Voice, by Dr. Peter Levine
Erin Jantz received her Master’s Degree in Spiritual Formation and Soul Care from the Institute for Spiritual Formation. She also holds a B.A. in developmental psychology and has furthered her education with trainings in trauma care from Boston University and intensives with Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk. She has been practicing spiritual direction since 2012, helped to author ICTG's Spiritual Formation Resource Guide, and also teaches and speaks on a variety of spiritual formation topics. Erin lives in Southern California with her husband and their four marvelous children.