When we talk about trauma and its after-effects, the thing that I as a therapist consider central to healing is ‘the idea of time in the physical body.’ Time, as we know and as quantum physics as well as the Vedas and Puranas tell us –Is not real. Time exists only in the physical body and not outside of it. The Shiv Purana says that it is because of time that distance exists, not the other way round. So, when I talk about a particular form of a therapeutic process called Regression Therapy, for working with trauma, I concentrate solely on the timeline of the trauma. What I mean to say here is, I try to work around the idea that the trauma had a particular timeline to it – as in it happened a certain time ago and the physical body must understand that ‘that’ time is over.
If I try to explain this in the simplest possible manner: the human brain has a particular part called the neocortex. The neocortex is involved in higher-order brain functions such as sensory perception, cognition, generation of motor commands, spatial reasoning and language. Therefore, the neocortex is involved in the processing of a lot of information. What the neocortex doesn’t have is a certain demarcation of time. Say for example, a person meets with an accident where he falls down from a flight of stairs and it happens so suddenly that the moment the accident is over, he finds himself in the hospital. And as a result, his brain is not able to process the information that occurred during the fall. Months later when the person sees the same flight of stairs, his brain sends him a signal that ‘he may fall again, and therefore he must be careful.’ It may so happen that the person finds it difficult to go down any flight of stairs and may develop a phobia of stairs later. This nature of phobia or compulsive hyper-vigilance in its extreme form can also be seen in people who have returned from wars, or people who have been ravaged by natural calamities or people who have been victims of sexual abuse, rape or even terrorist abductions. Certain traits are common in people who have been through trauma and can be loosely regarded as symptoms of the same: hypervigilance, insomnia, nightmares, profuse sweating, anorexia, anxiety/panic attacks, and depression.
All of these symptoms actually take us back to one common conclusion: that the event of trauma in their heads is not actually over. For example, for the man who fell from the flight of stairs and still experiences anxiety and phobia, the event of his actual trauma is not over yet. His neocortex cannot differentiate between the fact that the trauma of falling from the stairs had happened few months back. And because in the brain the event isn’t over yet, the neocortex keeps sending signal to the body to be hyper vigilant, careful and produces anxiety in the body whenever he comes across a flight of stairs. These symptoms are what commonly known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
As I had said in one of my previous pieces how talking is not the actual cure, in dealing with post traumatic stress, just talking about the event of trauma and trying to cognitively understand it, doesn’t help resolve the trauma. There is a need to revisit the trauma in a subconscious state and re-live the trauma. While a lot of people will say that - to re-live the trauma is to simply re-traumatize a person, what I as a therapist aim here at is to move through the trauma because it was absolutely unprocessed in the brain when it actually happened. In a state of regression when we go back in time and relive the trauma, the same information is finally processed and there comes a point when the client realizes that ‘the trauma had happened in a different time’. It is in the past. And the current day person that they are, are in a different time and space. This is in the ‘now’. That gives them a sense of time. The brain too slowly understands that ‘that was then, this is now.’
Once the neocortex finally understands that the trauma is over long back and in the present time it doesn’t exist, the body also slowly starts adjusting and gives away symptoms of hypervigilance, anxiety, insomnia and panic. A reversed way of looking at is, if a person is suffering from PTSD, is to see if there are these above mentioned symptoms. While in this article I have talked about simple traumas or in other words, traumas that occur over a short period, people may also suffer from complex trauma. Sometimes, the event of trauma can be so long that people may not even know if they are victims of trauma. Anxiety, fear and insomnia becomes a natural bodily reaction to their day to day life. Although such cases may take time and a good number of sessions, it is important to understand that the premise of resolving trauma lies in the realization of the timeline - that it is not rooted in the “NOW”.
When people come to me over the sadness of a breakup or the grief of losing a loved one, sometime over the anxiety of an examination of the frustration of letting a difficult situation pass, my simple solution to them is: Please do tell yourself, that whatever I am feeling has an expiry date, it’s true I am feeling it right now, but tomorrow I may feel different. All these negative feelings that I am feeling, always and always have a timeline and are destined to end. That’s how time becomes the most important part of resolution of trauma.
(Dr. Gaurav Deka is a Delhi-based medical doctor and psychotherapist. His work is based mostly on the transpersonal model of the mind, which includes ideas and processes like Past Life Regression, Inner Child Integration and Holistic Healing. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)