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Trauma and the Body

Feb 9, 2022

Dear Souls and Hearts Members,

Trauma.  And our bodies.  That’s what I dive into in this month’s Interior Integration for Catholics Podcast, Episode 89 entitled: Your Trauma, Your Body: Protection vs. Connection.  The episode is 80 minutes long, chock full of essential information about how psychological trauma impacts your body.

Secular psychologists argue that we have two major drives – to survive and to bond with other people.  But our bodies, at a neural level, at the level of brain chemistry and neuronal firing can put us in a position to choose between self-protection and connection with others.

Dr. Stephen Porges developed polyvagal theory as a way to understand how our bodies respond to emotional trauma in a much more nuanced way – there is so much that we have misunderstood about trauma, and how it impacts our will.  We cover polyvagal theory, in simple terms, in this podcast.

In our culture, and in the US Catholic Church, there has been such an emphasis on overcoming adversity, including trauma, by willpower.  And willpower is important, but it’s not enough and it certainly isn’t the only answer to the challenge of trauma.

Now a Broad Generalization…

US Catholics in western culture are (in general) very disconnected from our bodies.  We are not accustomed to looking within.  And a number of heresies have emerged that have challenged Catholic teaching on the goodness and beauty of the body over the last 2000 years.  We have Manicheanism, which taught that all physical matter, including the human body, was evil and thus devalued.  Gnosticism considered the mind vastly superior to the body, and condemned the body because it was subject to death and decay (and it was “messy”) – the Gnostics wanted to free the mind from the prison of the body.

We have our own unarticulated and often unconscious variations of heresies that condemn our bodies as well.  One recent misconception that I hear a lot from serious Catholics is that understanding and connecting with our bodies is somehow “New Agey.”  Nonsense.  New Agers have no monopoly on integrating their body into their existence.  In fact, according to the Second Great Commandment (see Luke 10:27) in is essential that we love our bodies (as part of ourselves) – that means we have to know and understand our bodies.

Stark Examples of Body Disconnections

Here are some clear examples of how people disconnect from their bodies:

  • The rape survivor who unconsciously and unfairly blames her body for attracting unwanted, lustful attention from men, and thus eats and eats until she weighs 320 lbs. — in order to become unappealing to any man in an attempt to protect herself from future violation.
  • The ultramarathon runner who learned as a teenager that he was safest from physical harm when he was running – and so he runs and runs, dissociated and disconnected from his body, unaware that his joints are breaking down from the strain, leading to permanent disability
  • The traumatized woman who drinks coffee and energy drinks before bed, in an attempt to ward off sleep so that the terrifying dreams of remembering won’t come back.

More Subtle Examples of Body Disconnection

But there are more subtle examples as well:

  • The depressed elderly man who doesn’t take care of his diabetes, causing all kinds of health concerns because he at an unconscious level prefers death to becoming increasingly incapacitated and dependent on others’ care
  • The young woman who doesn’t realize how subtly she flirts with her body, in a desperate attempt to get the attention from men that the innermost parts of her crave, futilely working to fill a gaping father void
  • A child who is always physically injured, because his parents don’t respond to emotional pain, but do respond to physical illnesses with attention and care

Getting in Touch

I am encouraging you to get in touch with your body, which is “fearfully and wonderfully made” as part of you.  There are reflection questions and an experiential exercise to help you get in touch with your body in this most recently released episode.

Don’t forget that all Interior Integration for Catholics podcast listeners can reach me on my cell at 317.567.9594 every Tuesday and Thursday from 4:30 PM to 5:30 PM Eastern time to discuss anything from the podcast!

Warm regards in Christ and His Mother,

Dr. Peter

P.S.  Dad continues to do really well.  He’s walking unassisted now and his mood is so much better!  Continued thanks to you for all your prayers.

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