Trauma and Autoimmune Disorders

Trauma comes in many forms: it can be ongoing abuse that we experienced as a child, it can be a single horrible incident like an accident or a disaster, it can be a surgery, and so on. There’s even a thing called trans-generational trauma, in which we kind of ‘inherit’ the unresolved issues of our ancestors.

In general, trauma enters the picture when things happen that we can’t deal with, so our nervous system goes into fight / flight / freeze mode. Afterwards, our nervous system may realize that we survived the danger, and it may go back to normal, allowing us to relax and carry on with our healthy life. Or, our nervous system may stay stuck in danger mode, making our body feel like there’s an emergency while we’re trying to live a normal day-to-day life.  Inflammatory stress hormones run through our system, we’re hyper-alert to danger all the time, we feel a sense of dread or shame or self-loathing, we go numb, and so on — even though it’s just an ordinary day. This is trauma, and after a while it feels normal to us – but it doesn’t feel good. Eventually it can become chronic anxiety, depression, addiction, and other conditions, including autoimmune disorders.

If you have an autoimmune disorder (as I do – celiac disease), it’s worthwhile for you to consider the possible role of trauma in your own experience. If you notice that you do have unresolved trauma – that maybe your nervous system is stuck in disaster response – don’t despair! There are ways to treat it and restore the nervous system to healthy functioning, which can really change the way you live in the world. You might still have the autoimmune disorder even after resolving your trauma (celiac disease, for example, is thought to be a life-long condition once it starts), but you’ll be better equipped to deal with it — and with everything else in your life.

Three Ways of Treating Trauma

I recently had the privilege of studying with trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk, and I learned a lot about trauma therapy. According to van der Kolk, there are three main ways of getting unstuck from trauma, and restoring a healthy balance:

  1. through the mind, with talk therapy
  2. with medicines and other technologies such as neurofeedback
  3. through the body, with counselling techniques such as Somatic Experiencing and with other techniques such as yoga, tai chi, drumming, and partner dances such as tango. (These may sound like strange therapy, but they work to bring you back to feeling like your body is a safe and enjoyable place to be.)

Each of these ways is valid. The best way for you to deal with unresolved trauma may be any one of them or a combination, depending on your unique scenario.

Please keep in mind that it’s best to do these treatments with a professional in order to do them safely, and reduce the risk of getting re-traumatized.

If we deal with our own trauma now, we can free ourselves from it and we can stop it from getting passed down to the next generation.

Please contact me if you are interested in doing some talk therapy. I have lots of techniques for reactivating the healing and peaceful aspects of your nervous system.


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