Trauma Responses: What is happening in the brain and the body?

There are a lot of things can invoke a trauma response. A specific smell, a memory, or an image can overtake you. Trauma can show up in humans in many ways. It can take the form of avoidance of a particular event, disassociation, and feelings of helplessness. Trauma can also take the form of a bodily reaction, including constriction of muscles, a “freeze response”, or the need or urge to move, a "flee response".

Our bodies are made up of 206 bones, over 899 ligaments, more than 59,0000 miles of nerves and veins, and 100,000 miles of nerve tissue. The one thing that connects all of these is the fascia tissue. The Fascia tissue connects and shapes everything throughout our body. Fascia also has smooth muscle embedded in it. Smooth muscle is one that contracts without our knowledge or awareness that it is doing so, it is involuntary (think heartbeat, breathing, our intestines digesting). Thus, our trauma responses can in some ways be sneaky and sometimes outside of our awareness.

Your brain is an extraordinary machine made up of 100 billion neurons, meaning you could fill 4 Olympic size swimming pools with grains of sand and each grain of sand would represent a neuron connection. The brain is not designed to “shut off”, meaning it is always trying to keep us safe. The part of the brain is responsible for holding the trauma is in the subcortex which is located behind our logical thought center. This why is so important to bring the body and what trauma expert Peter Levine PhD calls “the felt sense” into the therapy session. Peter states, “We see that to resolve trauma we must learn to move fluidly between instinct, emotion, and rational thought” (Levine, Waking the Tiger, p. 265).

In terms of processing trauma, whether we address the body (acupuncture, cranial sacral work, massage therapy) or the mind (psychotherapy, somatic experiencing, EMDR, brainspotting, addressing the emotions and how they are felt in the body), it is all connected to each other.

It is also important to recognize and acknowledge that something has had an impact on us. The lack of acknowledgement can create an invisible barrier to healing the trauma. In my years of being in private practice and community mental health, I have found that we as humans are resilient. I am often in awe and admiration of clients that continue to show up for themselves, wanting to put in the work and resolve situations of trauma responses that continually come up for them or figure out why present-day issues are having such an impart. If you want help exploring your trauma responses, please reach out, the IOME team is available. We have practitioners trained in EMDR and Brainspotting, all of which can assist with re-wiring your brain in creating a new response to past trauma. If you have questions you can email me at [email protected].

Together we are better,


SE 101 - Somatic Experiencing® International (
Waking the Tiger By: Dr. Peter Levine
Brainspotting trainings: Developer Dr. David Grande
The Human Brain in Numbers: A Linearly Scaled-up Primate Brain (


50% Complete

Sign Up For Weekly Self Care Tips!