Trauma is not just an emotional experience but also a physical one, as it can have a profound impact on how the body functions. The body has a remarkable ability to hold onto emotional and physical pain, often manifesting in various forms of tension and discomfort. The mind and body are deeply interconnected, and the way we think, feel, and behave can all impact our physical health.
According to somatic psychology, traumatic experiences are held in the body as muscle tension, chronic pain, and other physical symptoms. These physical manifestations of trauma are not just isolated to the affected area but can also affect other parts of the body, creating a chain reaction of tension and discomfort. The body becomes a container for the trauma, holding onto it until it can be properly processed and released. Through various somatic therapies, individuals can learn to identify and release the physical sensations associated with trauma, allowing for a more holistic approach to healing.
The womb is a powerful center of creation and life-giving energy, and it is also a place where we can store trauma. Women may hold trauma in their womb from a variety of sources, including sexual trauma, medical trauma, and emotional trauma. This can lead to a range of physical and emotional symptoms, such as pelvic pain, menstrual problems, difficulty with fertility, anxiety, and depression.
Research suggests that the body has a natural tendency to hold onto trauma as a way of protecting itself. When we experience trauma, our nervous system can become overwhelmed, and the brain may go into a state of freeze or shutdown. In this state, the body may store the trauma in order to protect us from being re-traumatized. Over time, however, this stored trauma can lead to physical and emotional imbalances, including in the womb. By recognizing and addressing the ways in which we hold trauma in our womb, we can begin to heal and release these patterns, and create space for new growth and vitality.
The science of interoception is a fascinating area of research that focuses on our ability to sense and interpret internal bodily sensations. This ability is closely tied to our overall well-being, and when we are disconnected from our internal world, it can lead to a range of physical and emotional symptoms. Fortunately, somatic therapy provides techniques that can help us develop our interoceptive abilities and promote healing.
How our Brain Regulates Emotion
The insular cortex is a key area of the brain that is involved in interoception and plays a critical role in our ability to regulate our emotions, respond to stress, and feel connected to our bodies. The insular cortex is located deep within the brain and is divided into two parts: the anterior insula and the posterior insula. The anterior insula is primarily involved in emotional processing and empathy, while the posterior insula is primarily involved in sensory processing and interoception. It is vital to understand this particularly when it comes to healing trauma.
The insular cortex plays a crucial role in our ability to sense and feel our emotions, as well as bodily sensations. When we experience a strong emotion, such as fear or excitement, the insular cortex is activated, and we become more aware of our bodily sensations. It also plays a key role in our ability to respond to stress.
How Chronic Stress Affects The Brain
When we experience stress, the insular cortex activates the body's stress response system, which prepares us for action. This response can be helpful in short-term situations, but chronic stress can lead to dysregulation of the insular cortex, which can lead to a range of physical and emotional symptoms. Both our ability to sense and feel emotion and respond to stress and develop internal resilience at a nervous system level, are severely impacted by trauma in childhood, particularly physical and sexual abuse.
The insular cortex plays a crucial role in our ability to sense and feel emotions, as well as bodily sensations. Unresolved trauma and chronic stress can lead to dysregulation of the insular cortex, which can lead to a range of physical and emotional symptoms.
Research has shown that trauma and chronic stress can lead to changes in the structure and function of the insular cortex. Individuals who have experienced trauma or chronic stress may have a smaller insular cortex and reduced connectivity within this area of the brain. This can lead to difficulties with emotional regulation and an increased risk for anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. Interoception is closely tied to the activity of the insular cortex, and changes in the insular cortex can lead to changes in interoception. For example, individuals with dysregulated insular cortex may have difficulty accurately sensing and interpreting bodily sensations, leading to a disconnection from their bodies and a difficulty in recognizing and responding to their own needs.
How Trauma Impacts Our Depth of Emotional Processing and Empathy
Trauma can impact our depth of emotional processing and empathy in a variety of ways. When we experience trauma, our nervous system can become dysregulated, leading to a state of hyperarousal or hypoarousal. In a state of hyperarousal, we may feel overwhelmed by emotions and have difficulty processing them, leading to a shut-down or numbing effect. In a state of hypoarousal, we may feel emotionally detached or disconnected, making it difficult to access and understand our own emotions, let alone empathize with others.
Additionally, trauma can create a sense of emotional fragmentation, where parts of ourselves may become disassociated or disconnected from our core self. This can make it challenging to fully engage with our emotions and experiences, leading to a lack of depth in emotional processing and empathy. Moreover, when trauma is left unresolved, it can impact our ability to form secure attachments and trusting relationships, further hindering our ability to connect with and understand others on an emotional level. By addressing and healing our past traumas, we can increase our capacity for emotional processing and empathy, leading to a more fulfilling and connected life.
The anterior insula is a hub for emotional processing, including the experience of empathy. It is involved in the recognition and interpretation of emotional signals from the body and the environment, such as facial expressions and vocal tones. Additionally, the anterior insula is associated with self-awareness, emotional regulation, and decision-making processes. Studies have shown that damage or dysfunction in the anterior insula can lead to difficulties in recognizing and regulating emotions.
How Trauma Impacts The Depth At Which We Feel Our Own Body
The posterior insula is a part of the brain that is involved in sensory processing and interoception, which is the ability to sense and perceive the internal state of one's body. It receives input from a variety of sources, including the somatosensory system, the autonomic nervous system, and the limbic system.
Research suggests that the posterior insula plays a key role in emotional processing and empathy. It has been shown to be active when individuals experience emotions such as disgust, pain, and social exclusion. In addition, studies have found that individuals with greater activity in the posterior insula are better at recognizing emotions in others and have a greater capacity for empathy.
However, trauma can disrupt the functioning of the posterior insula, leading to difficulties with emotional processing and empathy. For example, individuals who have experienced childhood trauma may have decreased activity in the posterior insula, which can result in a reduced ability to perceive and regulate their own emotions. This can lead to difficulties with empathy and connecting with others on an emotional level.
Why Feeling Emotions is So Painful When You're Holding Trauma
Holding onto trauma can make it difficult to fully process and feel emotions, which can lead to a range of negative consequences. One reason why feeling emotions can be so painful when holding trauma is due to the way in which the brain processes and stores traumatic memories. Traumatic memories are often stored in the brain in a fragmented and disorganized way, which can make it difficult to access and process the emotions associated with the experience. This can lead to a sense of emotional numbness or detachment, as well as difficulty in identifying and expressing emotions.
In addition, the body's physiological response to trauma can also contribute to the difficulty in feeling emotions. Trauma can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the body's fight or flight response. This response can lead to a range of physical sensations, such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, and muscle tension, which can be overwhelming and difficult to tolerate. As a result, the body may respond by shutting down emotions as a way to cope with the overwhelming physiological sensations.
Both the anterior and posterior insula contribute to our emotional experiences, but in different ways. The anterior insula is more involved in the processing and interpretation of emotions, while the posterior insula is more involved in the physical sensations that accompany emotions i.e the somatic experience.
Together, these two areas help us to create a holistic experience of our emotions, including the physical sensations that accompany them. It is in healing that we can gain access to suppressed memories of childhood trauma that are beyond our memory. To do this, we need to rebuild and reconnect to the posterior insula where we learn to feel, accept and interpret our truth based on the emotions and the physical response our body has to arising fear, discomfort etc. For survivors of abuse this is key to piecing together a fragmented childhood where the events of what took place are unclear.
How The Body Manages PTSD
One way the body manages PTSD is through the activation of the fight-or-flight response. This response is triggered by the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which prepare the body to either fight off a threat or run away from it. In the case of PTSD, the threat is often a memory or reminder of the traumatic event. The fight-or-flight response can help a person to stay alert and focused in a dangerous situation, but when it is constantly activated in response to non-threatening stimuli, it can contribute to symptoms of anxiety and hyperarousal commonly seen in PTSD.
The insular cortex is a key area of the brain that is involved in regulating our response to stress. When we experience stress, whether it be physical, emotional, or psychological, the insular cortex activates the sympathetic nervous system, which triggers the "fight or flight" response in our bodies. This response is a survival mechanism that prepares our body to either fight or flee from potential danger.The activation of the sympathetic nervous system causes a release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which increases heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration. This response can be helpful in short-term situations where we need to quickly respond to a potential threat, but chronic stress can lead to dysregulation of the insular cortex. Chronic stress can cause the insular cortex to become overactive, leading to a state of constant hyperarousal. This can lead to a range of physical and emotional symptoms, including anxiety, depression, and chronic pain. Chronic stress can also lead to changes in the structure and function of the insular cortex, which can further exacerbate symptoms and lead to difficulties with emotional regulation.
Trauma and Chronic Stress Impact the Brain: The Research
Studies have revealed that individuals who have experienced trauma or chronic stress may have a smaller insular cortex and reduced connectivity within this area of the brain. A 2019 study by Han et al. found that individuals with a history of childhood trauma had a smaller anterior insula volume compared to those without a history of trauma.
Additionally, a study by Badura-Brzoza et al. in 2016 found that individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) had reduced connectivity between the insular cortex and the amygdala, a region of the brain that is involved in the processing of emotions.
These changes in the structure and function of the insular cortex can have significant implications for emotional regulation and mental health. For example, a 2018 study by Elsayed et al. found that individuals with reduced insular cortex volume had greater anxiety symptoms. Another study by Terasawa et al. in 2013 found that individuals with reduced insular cortex activation had greater sensitivity to pain, suggesting a link between insular cortex dysfunction and chronic pain.
Furthermore, research has also shown that interventions that target the insular cortex and promote interoception can be effective in treating trauma and stress-related disorders. For example, a study by Khoury et al. in 2018 found that a mindfulness-based intervention led to changes in insular cortex structure and function, as well as improvements in emotional regulation and stress symptoms.
Trauma and chronic stress can lead to changes in the structure and function of the insular cortex, which can lead to difficulties with emotional regulation and an increased risk for anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. However, research has shown that interventions that promote interoception and target the insular cortex can be effective in treating these disorders.
How to Heal Trauma Held In Your Body
As a proponent of somatic awareness and the power of healing through the body-mind connection, I highly recommend incorporating techniques that promote interoception and strengthen the neural pathways in the insular cortex. Some effective techniques include mindfulness, meditation, and body-centered therapies like somatic experiencing and healing work. By developing our ability to tune into our internal bodily sensations, we can cultivate greater self-awareness and regulate our emotions more effectively, leading to improved mental and physical well-being.
Mindfulness is a technique that involves paying attention to the present moment and accepting it without judgment. It can be practiced in many different ways, including meditation, mindful breathing, and mindful movement. Research has shown that practicing mindfulness can increase gray matter in the insular cortex, which is associated with improved interoception and emotional regulation.
Meditation is another technique that can help promote interoception and strengthen the insular cortex. It involves focusing the mind on a specific object or idea, such as the breath, and can be practiced in many different ways, including mindfulness meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and visualization meditation. Studies have shown that regular meditation can increase the size of the insular cortex, improve emotional regulation, and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Body-centered therapies such as yoga and somatic experiencing can also be helpful in promoting interoception and strengthening the insular cortex. Yoga involves physical postures, breath work, and meditation, and has been shown to increase gray matter in the insular cortex and improve emotional regulation.
Somatic integration is a form of body-centered therapy that focuses on releasing physical and emotional tension stored in the body. It can help individuals develop a greater sense of interoception and reconnect with their bodies.
In addition to these techniques, engaging in regular physical exercise has also been shown to promote interoception and improve the structure and function of the insular cortex.
Exercise has been shown to increase gray matter volume in the insular cortex, as well as improve emotional regulation and reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Somatic Healing Approaches for Trauma
Overall, deepening our interoception and strengthening the insular cortex is crucial for our emotional and psychological well-being. If you're interested in exploring the fascinating world of interoception and the role of the insular cortex in regulating our emotions, responding to stress, and connecting us to our bodies, then Sacred Somatix may be just the course for you.
In this course, you'll learn techniques that can help promote interoception and strengthen the neural pathways in the insular cortex, including mindfulness, meditation, and body-centered therapies such as somatic experiencing and healing work. You'll also have the opportunity to explore the connections between your bodily sensations, emotions, and overall well-being, and develop a deeper sense of self-awareness and connection to your inner world.
Whether you're looking to heal from past trauma, deepen your spiritual practice, or simply enhance your overall well-being, Sacred Somatix offers a unique and transformative approach to somatic integration and healing. Don't miss out on this opportunity to explore the science of interoception and the power of the insular cortex to transform your life. Enroll in Sacred Somatix today and begin your journey towards greater self-awareness and healing.