Trauma, PTSD and related disorders
When an event overwhelms us our brain switches into survival mode, we either fight, flight or freeze. These events can get stored in an area of our brain called the amygdala. This part of our brain is not accessible to our usual methods of processing and the experience remains fresh and untouched. This is why it feels as though we relive it over and over again when something triggers the trauma memory. These events do not fade like other experiences.
Some people experience flashbacks where they feel as though they are right back in the event. These can be terrifying debilitating episodes. Others experience terror and are unaware of its origins. Trauma, especially old experiences, get woven into our behaviour. We learn to develop coping mechanisms which can look as though we are recreating disturbing events or becoming totally avoidant of anything related to the event which affected us. For others, it can manifest in things such as extreme anxiety, panic attacks, obsessive compulsive behaviours, agoraphobia, eating disorders and substance misuse. Although these coping mechanisms have a detrimental effect on our life, they help us deal with the effects of our sympathetic nervous system firing off, sending alarming levels of adrenaline and cortisol into our bodies causing panic and terror. If we try to just change our behaviour we have to find new coping mechanisms, sometimes worse than the previous ones.
Long term trauma often means that we have to develop different parts of ourselves in order to cope with situations and effects which trigger the trauma. These parts of us can be difficult to recognize and manage on our own, and feel as though they are controlling us rather than us controlling them.
Symptoms of trauma can include: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety and depression, personality and mood disorders, borderline personality disorder, ADHD, OCD, eating disorders and addictions. These symptoms relate to the fear experienced at the time of the trauma which have become frozen in the mind as memories and the body as blocks of fear filled energy.
Why Trauma and Horses?
Just talking about the events does not shift trauma, it can be a re-traumatising experience. Because the trauma memory is stored in a different part of our brain to ordinary memories it doesn’t age or fade. When this gets triggered our nervous system fires up and our ‘thinking’ part of the brain shuts down. Trauma affects the body as much as the brain, all the responses to the triggers, fight, flight and freeze, are actioned by your body. Unless we include the body in the healing process we never get to have a new safe experience. We may need to help our body to do something different instead of freezing. When we can have a different experience mindfully with our body, then we have a new neural pathway.
Horses naturally manage and release stress and fear, not through using their minds, but through their bodies and energy. They release the tension and the body’s memory and response to fear, both physically and energetically. By doing so they successfully conserve much needed physical energy which in turn maintains optimum health, rebalances and re-regulates the nervous system and returns them to a state of healthy equilibrium.
Horses not only do this for themselves but also with and for the other members of the herd. A calm and balanced individual can be of assistance in helping regulate the entire herd. Like a Mother naturally calming and soothing her child. When in their company we benefit by learning, through them, how to feel safe and become masters of our own energy, minds and bodies.
Horses are emotionally intelligent, intuitive, sensitive and able to read us very skilfully. They respond to us in multitude of remarkable ways, all of which mimic the way in which they interact with each other. With each interaction we are provided with an opportunity to heal and rebuild a piece of ourselves.
It has been our experience at Hopethruhorses that it is not only participants themselves who benefit from the shifts in their perceptions, thought patterns and responses, but that families and associates all see, and profit from, the behaviour changes the therapy brings about.