Working with Shock and Trauma

When I was a child growing up in a small apartment in the Bronx, New York that was made even smaller by my parents’ violent arguments, I would spend the evenings looking out the kitchen window at the vast night sky, the stars, and the lights coming from the other apartments all around. I found peace and relief in my gazing towards the heavens, knowing there was more promise in life than the barbaric behavior of my family.

Many things are encapsulated in this memory. It tells the story of how a child copes with trauma, and it suggests a route to resolution. Later in this article I will spell this out. I reference this because ending lineages of violence and traumatic repetition is always for the benefit of children who are simultaneously our teachers, our way-showers, and our charges. The child you were, likewise, points the way towards your own health and the restoration and manifestation of your individual essence.

The simplest definition of trauma is that it is an overwhelming and emotionally painful experience. The highest magnitude of trauma is shock, which can be completely debilitating and even paralyzing. Shock can result from overlays of trauma; daily experiences of overwhelm that layer one on top of the other such as happens in dysfunctional families, when a parent is an addict or mentally ill, during times of war, catastrophe and terror, in the midst of political uprisings, and in poverty and financial depression. But what precisely is overwhelmed? What is debilitated that creates the condition we call trauma?

On a purely physiological level the answer to this question is the nervous system. It is the nervous system that becomes dysregulated by trauma and shock and therefore it is only reasonable that to resolve trauma we must speak to and support the nervous systems of traumatized individuals.

The nervous system is the biological information highway that communicates to every part of the mind-body, via bioelectrical signals, about how to behave, how to respond to circumstances, and how to survive. The nervous system has two major components: the Central Nervous System and the Peripheral Nervous System. They are team members with one mission. They work constantly to tell every relevant part of the human body how to function in the face of any challenge. Trauma, and even more so shock, cause traffic jams on the bioelectrical information highway.

Our ability to deal with threat is shaped by the nervous system’s history and its determination to sustain continuity. This is summed up by the word “coping.” Coping patterns that keep us alive and functional become entrenched by their very repetition through neuronal patterns. This is called “neuronal consolidation.” That’s the traffic jam. The neurological axiom is: “Neurons that fire together wire together.” Traffic is stuck and cannot go forward.

The nervous system begins its development immediately after conception. This means that we establish coping patterns in utero. When we feel stuck, when we become addicted to substances, relationships or behaviors, when we are discouraged and disheartened, it can help us to know how long these patterns have been with us. This can make it easier to generate the compassion we need to interrupt destructive patterns. Interrupting habituation is how we generate resiliency, creativity, healing and evolution. Compassion provides the fuel we need to liberate ourselves and step out of the past and into the present.

Let’s go back to the child who is me at the window of her apartment in New York. Remember that she is listening to her parents argue in the background. She is surrounded by threat. She does not feel safe. There is no room for her to be herself and no one is making her experience a priority. Yet, despite this, she wants to survive and thrive. She wants more than the violence that surrounds her and threatens to envelop her. She knows that more is available because she sees it; she feels it as she gazes out the apartment window. She is searching for the bigger picture out there, and she is finding it. What she sees brings her a modicum of peace.

It is that modicum of peace, the gift of the vast world of other options, which led me on the path of surviving domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty, loneliness, desperation, and despair. It is what led me, eventually, to create the TARA Approach so that I could offer others a way to end lineages of violent repetition. It was my curiosity about what else existed and about what was possible that allowed me to explore with faith the resolving intelligence that liberates potential physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually.

My passionate, unquenchable curiosity led me later in my life, when I was a single working mother, to complete a doctorate in neuropsychology, to study energy medicine so that I could understand the true nature of the bioelectricity of the nervous system, to write three clinical books on trauma and to reach out across the world to transmit the tools for healing intergenerational traumatic repetition in the name of all the children sitting at all the windows looking out, questing for more when they are surrounded by trauma.

The TARA Approach, therefore, is my fusion of the Western and Eastern systems I have used for myself while I have studied, practiced, and researched them. It includes an ancient applied touch system called Jin Shin (the art of compassion) that is self-care based and that has the remarkable, gentle capacity to restore, by recalibrating bioelectric current, the innate integrity and equanimity of the nervous system no matter how much it has been shattered.

I have adapted Jin Shin specifically for the resolution of nervous system overload and call my adaptation Jin Shin TARA. It is based on the Eight Extraordinary Meridians or Rivers of Splendor. Holding designated sites on this map stimulates bioelectrical current in connective tissue, just as acupuncture does with needles. Because touch is the conductor the responses are more titrated, providing exactly the correct dosage of stimulation.

It is my great honor and privilege to bring these resources to Ireland. My journey has led me to share these blessed resources and offer new options, new experiences, and new hope for ending the lineage of violence. Those intending to heal and those who serve as vehicles of healing for others are welcome to partake of these blessings. They are scientifically tested, clinically proven in multiple trials, and published, but they are also simply human resources, human interventions, that belong to us as our birthright.

About the author: 

Stephanie Mines is the author of ‘Sexual Abuse/Sacred Wound: Transforming Deep Trauma’, ‘We Are All in Shock: How Overwhelming Experience Shatters You and What You Can Do About It’, and the recently released ‘New Frontiers in Sensory Integration’. She has also written a book for children, ‘The Dreaming Child: How Children Can Help Themselves Recover from Illness and Injury’. Stephanie will run workshops in Ireland and the UK in 2014, including a residential workshop in Dunderry Park, Co. Meath in September.

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