Mind-Body Connection and Abuse

The mind and body are one.  If you heal the mind, than you will feel less physical discomfort.  Here are two connections that I have seen and read about.

1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Sexual Abuse – it certainly makes sense that many of my sexual abuse clients or survivors I have known,  have this dis-ease.  When examining how the body reacts during such a trauma (in retrospect), there is a holding pattern.  The body tightens up in fear.  All the years of holding in the pain – because no one will listen, no one believes or you are afraid to tell. IBS can manifest with either constipation or diarrhea.  Both very annoying symptoms, especially when you are at work, at a party, or just out with friends. I discussed this with a very open-minded proctologist and it appears that studies have been done on this association between mind and body, in reference to sexual abuse.

2. Child Abuse and Regressed Growth – I have read some articles by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk on trauma and the development of children.  Children do not do as well in school when they have been abused.  This makes it more difficult when trying to accomplish higher learning if at the elementary and junior/high school levels, a child was exposed to on-going abuse. They do not grow as much as the average child either. This of course changes if a child goes from an abusive home to a safer home (as with a foster care placement or relative).  This only changes though in a very special home where there is a great deal of love and attention to mental health needs.  It requires a lot of time and energy to help overturn all those years.  It can also change if the adult child begins to do work on themselves on their own.  What I have seen though is children who grow taller and do very well in school.  Children who look healthier and feel safe.  When I talk to them about their past, I watch as their body begins to change, curling up at the reminder of the episode.

There are other mind-body connections that could be discussed but I am not the appropriate person to go into the details. If you would like to learn more though, there are many people who can put you in this direction.  Deepak Chopra, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, James Kepner, USABP, these names and organization is a good start.

I am a somatic psychotherapist but I also recognize that a joint approach (talk therapy and body therapy) to healing works wonders.  I often talk to clients about doing bodywork or taking healing types of exercise (yoga, Tai-Chi) in addition to psychotherapy.  Since the body was traumatized, it makes sense that you would want to heal it with safe touch or movement.  It also makes sense that the holding patterns that were created during the actions of abuse, would be opened up when the person allows their body to move safely once again.   The body collapses during abuse or becomes very rigid/tight. This makes it difficult to breathe properly.  It also causes other internal discomfort as I have shown with two examples above.

Sex is often an issue with people who have been abused (whether it is physical or sexual or emotional).  This is because the person’s mind-body has been violated during child development ages or as an adult. Boundaries were not taught.  Trust was not built.  Or both were taken away (as an adult) and it is hard to regain.

The body has to be healed by the person who lives in it.  You can marry a wonderful partner who is so devoted to you and still not have a good sex life.  Still have problems in the relationship because you are unable to let go of the anger that has built up inside of you. I am not saying “let go” as in “get over it,” like someone in your social circle might imply.  What I am talking about is being free from this pain as you begin to expand and grow as a person – through professional who can guide you through this process.

Here are some types of body work that can be a helpful adjunct to psychotherapy:

1. Massage – A professional masseuse or bodyworker (as they often are referred to these days) will provide safe and nurturing touch that is non-sexual.  It is important to find a really good bodyworker who you feel comfortable talking with, so you can explain if you have been traumatized at some point in your life.  They will work with you at your comfort level.  Massage is generally done with the client unclothed.  However, it does not have to be this way until you feel ready.  If you say you are not comfortable with this, make sure to wear loose clothing for your session.

2. Movement or Dance – It is such a wonderful feeling when you are able to express yourself through rhythmic exercise.  A traumatized person begins to open their body up when they begin to move.  I am not talking about taking a ballet or tap class.  There are Dance Therapists who can help you with this journey. I have also found classes taught by teachers who just appreciate the need to move.  There is also the Feldenkrais  movement technique.

3. Yoga and Tai-Chi – I have never studied Tai-Chi, so I can only speak from observation.  This is a very gentle movement of the body designed to help bring balance to the practitioner.  Yoga is a movement I have practiced for over thirty years, in different disciplines.  In this modern age however, one must be careful the classes that they choose.  I am not talking about power yoga here.  I am talking about a class that focuses on the postures (asanas) and is meant to be a spiritual mind-body connection. Yoga and Tai-Chi are Eastern disciplines and should be respected as such.

With a mind-body approach you are in psychotherapy to talk about and understand what happened to you.  You are there to be validated in your experience. When you begin to get in touch with your body, through safe touch and from spiritual exercise or movement, you will begin to become empowered as a person.  There will be less fear and anger, because you will begin to remove yourself from the past, so that it almost feels like another time period. The incidents will never be removed so that you don’t remember – it is your life.  However, with dedication to the mind-body it is possible to grow into a healthier you so that you are not your trauma.

Please feel free to ask if any of this sounds confusing.  It is not the easiest topic to write about.  I have an easier time talking about it out loud.  I am practicing writing about it though because I want to educate my clients and audience on the benefits of working in this frame of mind. It is not a cheap way to heal and take care of yourself.  Insurance companies do not pay for bodywork and they are not concerned about whether or not you heal.  Actually insurance is more in line with fixing the problem so that it goes away and then you return to work and leave them alone.  Your mind-body deserves the best in life.  Especially for those who have been horribly taken advantage of.

Many times I hear victims say “I just want to feel normal.”  This requires dedication to the mind-body and will take some time to do the work.  It is not a quick 10 session fix.  It is an evolving process that goes on through the years; with various teachers, healers, practitioners and this is because you are growing as a person and over time become ready for a more advanced level of learning.

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