What is it like to carry the secret of trauma for many years and maybe even decades? This is the reality that trauma therapists around the world and especially at The Refuge face daily. Many of our clients show up for treatment in crisis as a result of bearing the emotions associated with many years of holding on to a secret.
Imagine yourself impacted by a traumatic event many years ago, vowing to never share this with anyone and then going to treatment where you are faced with a new environment and a therapist asking you to share all of your secrets with them. “Secrets keep you sick”, they say. The very thought of sharing any secret for the first time may seem daunting to most and even life threatening to some but the cathartic value that exists is unmatched by anything else I have seen in treatment so far.
During my graduate program studies I remember learning about the many different theories by which we could work within. I found it fascinating to discover that the most effective mode of therapy had been determined to be the clients feeling heard. This therapeutic tool becomes very valuable when someone is telling their secret for the first time. I had a client that I was working with a couple of years back that had
such a secret that they had never told anyone. As a result of holding onto this, their life had been directed down a path of addiction and abuse on many levels which was their way of dealing with all of the emotions that surrounded the trauma that they had experienced. Upon their disclosure of the secret their emotions overwhelmed this person and a myriad of anger, shame, guilt, hurt, pain, sadness, and grief came flooding out. Once the secret was out, there was no taking it back and for that reason the feelings were intensified according to this client. At this point you may be asking how this is even close to cathartic?
Telling the secret was their first step to addressing all that laid beneath. After being able to process by participating in a somatic exercise and getting feedback from other group members that supported their feelings they were able to begin working towards their catharsis with what they felt as a result of having shared their secret. In this particular case to move through the overwhelming emotions that had surfaced we needed to move the energy in their body by giving them an opportunity to do something with it. To tell the secret is only a portion of the therapeutic process involved in trauma work. In many instances this can be done with guided imagery, intentional breath, Gestalt exercises, or bat work. Due to the amount of anger blocking the many other emotions that existed in this client it was decided that they needed to break something with their hands which did seem to complete the cycle for them by allowing them to access most, if not all of their senses.
Trauma resolution seems to be most effective when you can involve as many of the senses as possible. This could be attributed to the reality that when we experience trauma all of our senses are involved. Think about being in a car accident which most people have been in at some point in their lives. You can usually smell the smoke or steam from the damaged motor, or maybe the smell of burnt rubber as the vehicles tires were locked up trying to stop before the impact. You usually see most of the accident as it is happening. Sometimes it seems as though time slows or even stops and other times it seems as though it all happens in the blink of an eye. There are many sounds that leave their imprint on the mind and body which also illicit certain reactions (for instances the protective, primitive response of loud noises causing eyes to close or blink). You may even be able to taste some of the things that you smell as a result of these two senses being so closely related. Lastly you feel the force of the impact from whatever has altered the direction of your vehicle.
With all that said, if you have experienced events in your life that the threat of danger or death was real or perceived and where you can remember things like the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touch, then most likely you have been impacted by trauma. Those that have kept their traumas a secret know how the power of that trauma grows from one day to the next. To address the traumas that have happened in someone’s life that they have been keeping secret, build rapport and trust to establish a safe environment and process through any/all emotions with them to complete the trauma loop. It is imperative that therapists incorporate all of the senses in to the therapeutic intervention to provide the best opportunity to fully process the trauma.