After having put together the information in the section Phenomena of this blog, I went on to search for answers and perspectives. Below you will find my first findings. For most of them I will attach documents in the Documents section of this blog. Much of the information on trauma comes from the work of Dr. Robert Scaer.
Childhood trauma could stem from different sources. One can identify trauma due to psychological, physical, and sexual threats. Since a child is relatively helpless and completely depending on its caregivers, a seemingly small issue in this relationship could already lead to severe trauma. A loose definition of trauma is: having to face a (life) threatening event while one is helpless. If we are unable to control the situation or protect ourselves, we will become traumatized. When a small child becomes traumatized due to its parents or caregivers, it cannot hold this against them, since the child depends on them and has nowhere else to go. Instead, the child tends to direct its negative emotions to the self. It will become convinced that the trauma happened due to its own flaws and imperfection. On many occasions, this self-blame even makes the child (and the adult that it grows up into) convinced that there was no trauma. Dissociation and repression can also contribute to memory loss of childhood trauma. Worldwide research shows that up to 60% of people with childhood trauma cannot remember it later in life.
The negative self image is detrimental for self-esteem and often leads to perfectionism and the tendency to please others. “if I never make a mistake, if I am always compliant, if I put everyone else’s needs before my own, and if I don’t say “no” to other people’s requests, perhaps people will love and appreciate me or at least will stop criticizing and judging me”.
Setting unrealistically high goals and becoming a workaholic is the next step.
Below is a more complete list with the possible long-term effects of childhood trauma (source: Jan Sutton).
Looking more into the biology of trauma, there is one aspect to it that is not yet widely understood: the freeze response. We are all familiar with the fight/flight response in the face of a threat. Our organism prepares itself to survive by means of fighting or fleeing. A huge amount of energy is being released for this purpose. However, when neither fighting nor fleeing is an option, e.g., when we are cornered and completely helpless, another survival mechanism will come into force: the freeze response. We will become immobilized, seemingly dead. This will take several minutes. In the wild, the predator often loses interest in its prey and moves on. The prey will then start to come to its senses. An important observation here is that the prey will subsequently discharge the accumulated energy that was generated for survival. It will do so by heavy breathing, shaking, and by making running movements – as if completing the physical movements of fight and/or flight that it was unable to perform earlier. After some time, the discharge will be completed and the animal will be fully recovered, able to continue living as before. In other words: the animal has no trauma! However, it has been found that captured animals are unable to discharge after going into the freeze response. And these animals are unable to survive in the wild afterwards. They are still in a state of freeze response and cannot protect themselves.
Human beings apparently have the same problem as captured animals, possibly because we live in a cultural cage. So after entering the freeze response in the face of threat, we humans are rarely able to discharge the survival energy, which gets stuck in our system: we become traumatized.
From research all over the world, it is well-known that women are twice as likely to become traumatized as men, twice as likely to develop PTSD symptoms (post-traumatic stress disorder). Most probably this is due to the fact that women become traumatized in different situations. They are more vulnerable; specifically, they are more prone to sexual trauma than men.
Another possible explanation for this gender difference is that women (and children, for that matter) are naturally wired to freeze in the face of a traumatic situation, and men are built to fight or flee. In a tribal conflict for instance, women would have had decreased chances of survival if they would have tried to fight or run away. Hence the tendency to freeze. For men on the other hand, the natural thing to do in order to survive would be to fight or flee.
Freeze goes hand in hand with so-called dissociation. Once someone gets stuck with all this arousal energy due to the freeze response, it constantly reminds the victim of the trauma. In order to cope with this, the victim dissociates. In fact, the freeze response in itself is already a kind of dissociation. Dissociation means that the victim detaches from part of his or her reality. Dissociation can take many forms: splitting off of consciousness, emotional numbing, splitting off of body functions or awareness (somatic dissociation), repressed memories, changed perception of time, altered perception of the self, etc.
It should be clear that dissociation isn’t healthy at all, and prevents to be ‘whole’.
Once someone has entered the freeze response, it appears that this becomes a pattern, provided that the freeze response is never being discharged. Any new, threatening life event will again invoke the freeze response, making the person more vulnerable and helpless each time. In this pattern, trauma and the stuck survival energy in the body, continually accumulate. Especially if someone has experienced childhood trauma, the accumulated trauma in the rest of that person’s life tends to become enormous. Then, even minor negative events will cause a new trauma. And even ‘regular’ stress will greatly enhance the amount of stored arousal energy.
Later in life, the accumulated trauma typically results in more physical trauma, such as accidents involving injuries to the head and neck. E.g., it has been shown that people who have been in motor vehicle accidents (whiplash) with severe PTSD-like symptoms even though the accidents happened at very low speeds, almost always have a history of prior cumulative unresolved trauma.
But physical trauma is not the only consequence of accumulated trauma. Anxiety, phobias, personality disorders, PTSD symptoms such as light and sound sensitivity (also called hypervigilance), etc., are more likely to become part of our lives. And chronic disease appears to be a major factor as well. It is well known that people with chronic diseases often have a history of accumulated life trauma, usually including early childhood trauma.
The story behind this fact is becoming clearer, thanks to the work of neurologist Dr. Robert Scaer. When human beings enter the freeze response and don’t discharge it, this is found to have a big impact on procedural memory systems in the brain. Procedural memory is for memorizing how to do things, how to follow procedures, how to walk through sequences. Sequences stored in procedural memory are very sustainable and readily accessible. E.g., how to ride a bicycle is typically stored in procedural memory. The areas in the brain connected to procedural memory are most likely: striatum, basal ganglia, cerebellum, and limbic system.
Now there is strong evidence that memories of the motor sequences of a traumatic event are stored in this memory system. And within the framework of somatic dissociation, this can lead to the splitting off of that region of the body that was actively generating sensory input during the traumatic event.
In this light, it is plausible that cervical dystonia is the storage into procedural memory of the orienting reflex that occurs in the face of a threat – especially if the threatening situation had a relation to the position of the head, which is actually mostly the case. The orienting reflex is the movement of the head from left to right, and/or up and down, in order to assess the situation and to see, smell, and hear where the threat comes from. If the orienting reflex coincides with entering the freeze response (that is subsequently not discharged), it thus gets stored in procedural memory, where it will be causing perpetuated neck spasms. As Dr. Scaer puts it: “That region or part of the body that provides sensory input to the brain regarding a traumatic event may later be subjected to selective regional autonomic dysregulation through the process of dissociation. Somatic dissociation is the splitting off of a region of the body from normal conscious perception that results in a physiological change in that body region.” Hence, cervical dystonia is a syndrome of procedural memory. The fact that CD patients show a deficiency when replicating certain sequences (see the Phenomena section), must without doubt be related to the finding that procedural memory is heavily involved here.
Anger is generally recognized as part of any traumatic event. Anger provides the energy for the fight or flight response. However, when a person enters the freeze response and doesn’t recover from it (i.e., becomes traumatized), so does the associated anger. It remains stuck in our system. Also, there often is a great deal of anger due to injustice done to us, which we cannot express however, especially if the trauma occurred in childhood.
Unresolved anger leads to the following personality traits.
- Criticality is a clear expression of unconscious anger. It is a kind of intellectual anger, which goes hand in hand with perfectionism.
- Along with perfectionism come self-criticism and the inability to accept oneself.
- Demandingness can also be understood as an expression of suppressed anger. Having been so frustrated but unable to express the associated anger, it is natural to create demands that function like spells and wishes to resolve that very frustration.
- Along with demandingness come discipline and conscientiousness.
- The need to control is obviously there to control one’s own anger. But this need extends to the outside world as well and often takes obsessive dimensions.
- The need to control goes hand in hand with the need to rigidly structurize. This forces one to make meticulous preparations, and it does not allow for improvisation or coping with unstructured situations. Thinking ‘outside the box’ also becomes hard.
- Not allowing anger to be expressed, transforms the personality into one that will always behave correctly, be it in a formal way. It is virtually impossible to spontaneously follow natural impulses and have uncomplicated pleasure. It becomes outright difficult to express any emotions, especially (of course) the anger itself.
- Denying anger in ourselves will obviously make us blind to anger in other people as well.
Having an INTJ personality implies that we are more susceptible to developing CD. When we have trauma, the way we cope with the consequences is obviously related to our personality structure.
- We are introvert – as opposed to extravert -, so we tend to keep our stresses inside, instead of throwing it all out. This builds the tension in our system.
- We are intuitive – as opposed to sensing -, and therefore we tend to look at the big picture. We do not allow ourselves to get lost in specific anxieties or anger, but we rationalize things and make sure we arrange our lives in such a systematic way that we keep on track with the targets that we set for ourselves.
- We are thinking people – as opposed to feeling. So we are inclined to neglect and deny our feelings and pain, keeping them buried. We lead our lives the way we think we should, instead of the way we feel we should.
- We are judging, as opposed to perceiving. This allows us to plan our activities way ahead, controlling our every step.
Our personality gives us powerful means to deal with the symptoms caused by trauma. Although we do suffer from (some) anxiety, phobias, depression and anger, we are able to continue with our lives and be more or less ‘successful’. We do this by deploying rigid control, not listening to our feelings, our hearts. But this of course makes us less and less flexible, while more and more harmful tension and stress is building up inside. Until we cannot take it anymore.
As an intermezzo, let me give some quotes from the book “Body Symbolism” by Richard Rybicki, as I think these insights are very relevant to CD/ST. I have always been convinced that disease doesn’t just happen to us, but that we ourselves are responsible for creating it, and that it brings us a message about the life and growth issues we struggle with. Richard’s understanding of these messages has been eye opening to me. I also would like to thank him dearly for his personal support to me!
Our non-physical, imagination-based identity greatly relies upon our nervous system to anchor itself to and operate in physical reality, chiefly through our brain. Disturbances in the nervous system must be interpreted according to the chakra area and body functions affected. Because nerves deal with perception and will, and greatly affect muscles, nervous system disturbances generally indicate dilemmas about perception, personal power and self-reliance. Nervous system dysfunctions generally suggest a desire to not be aware of and connected to the outside world; the person feeling “I can’t take it anymore!” and wanting to draw a perceptual shade. The emotions behind these conditions are generally frustration, sorrow, fear, sadness and, of course, intense anger.
Fifth chakra: thyroid gland, parathyroid, throat, larynx, tongue, teeth, pharynx, cervical vertebrae, neck, shoulders, jaw, eyes, ears, nose.
Sometimes we hold back our expression of anger at someone and instead give ourselves “a pain in the neck”, as we feel that person to be. A more severe condition like a muscular constriction of our throat may indicate feelings of anger and not wanting to have opinions or obligations “shoved down our throat” anymore or finding some situation “hard to swallow”.
A second motive is to stop our world: to slow, slow, slow down movement (symbolized by muscle) in our life. … we try to stop our seemingly crazy, hurtful world. … We want to slow down our world so we can get an emotional grip on it. For instance, many of us have attracted events in which we feel overwhelmed, inept, powerless, picked-on and bounced around. Too many of these hurtful experiences can lead to broken dreams and a desire to quit and hide from the seemingly cruel world. … [These conditions] dramatically slow our pace of interaction with our hurtful world and provide much needed respite from expected cruelties or failures. A third motive … has to do with our self-image. We may build into our identity a belief that we are a psychically or physically weak person. We usually do not like this belief and attendant thoughts because they generate feelings of helplessness. Thus, we understandably try to gloss over and deny them away (please remember: once an emotion is created, it cannot be denied away; it can only be repressed out of awareness. It has to be felt away.) Well, at some later time we may choose to confront our self-image and experience a body condition in which we become physically weak to reflect the emotional view we have of ourselves. These physical conditions provide the opportunity to rail against and overcome our weak self-perception. … A fourth motive … is to create a framework in which to overcome a fear. We may have a tremendous fear of being physically weak and dependent. Thus, we may, with great courage or extremism, force total confrontation with our unconscious emotions by living and facing our feared dependence brought about through muscle impairment.
A second motive is to stop our world: to slow, slow, slow down movement (symbolized by muscle) in our life. … we try to stop our seemingly crazy, hurtful world. … We want to slow down our world so we can get an emotional grip on it. For instance, many of us have attracted events in which we feel overwhelmed, inept, powerless, picked-on and bounced around. Too many of these hurtful experiences can lead to broken dreams and a desire to quit and hide from the seemingly cruel world. … [These conditions] dramatically slow our pace of interaction with our hurtful world and provide much needed respite from expected cruelties or failures.
A third motive … has to do with our self-image. We may build into our identity a belief that we are a psychically or physically weak person. We usually do not like this belief and attendant thoughts because they generate feelings of helplessness. Thus, we understandably try to gloss over and deny them away (please remember: once an emotion is created, it cannot be denied away; it can only be repressed out of awareness. It has to be felt away.) Well, at some later time we may choose to confront our self-image and experience a body condition in which we become physically weak to reflect the emotional view we have of ourselves. These physical conditions provide the opportunity to rail against and overcome our weak self-perception. …
A fourth motive … is to create a framework in which to overcome a fear. We may have a tremendous fear of being physically weak and dependent. Thus, we may, with great courage or extremism, force total confrontation with our unconscious emotions by living and facing our feared dependence brought about through muscle impairment.
Cervical dystonia from the perspective of body symbolism
When trying to interpret the symbolic messages provided by CD/ST, I can produce the following views.
- Our forward head posture has shown that we were unable to hold our heads with pride, already a long time before onset of CD symptoms.
- In CD, the neck, and thus the fifth chakra are clearly involved. Therefore, there is a problem with the honest expression of self, especially of our emotions, i.e., our anger. And I am sure that our issues with self-esteem also mess with our honest expression of self, prevent us from really being ourselves.
- The fact that many CD/ST patients have perspiration problems is another indicator that they are indeed having trouble to process their emotions.
- Moreover, dissociation and numbing are reflected by the frozen (neck) muscles that do not allow us to feel our emotions (anger).
- The fifth chakra, having to do with honest verbal expression, is physical, but less so and serves as a transition between the material and spiritual realms. So a disturbed fifth chakra in CD/ST could indicate a disconnect between the mind and the body. This is in-line with dissociation. We live too much in our heads, not in our bodies.
- Apart from the neck, the fifth chakra also governs the thyroid gland, the jaw, and the ears. Many CD/ST patients have problems with these. For me personally, the sharp flashes of pain in my ears are associated with a traumatic message I have heard when I was very young.
- Also, not being able to use our necks as flexible pivotal points anymore, confirms that we have become rigid.
- Negative conditions in our muscles prevent us from moving forward and generally indicate that we would like to go back to times that were still good. This is in-line with the phenomenon that a group of CD/ST patients experiences relief when walking backwards.
- Also, generally speaking, impaired muscles are a sign of weakness, of helplessness. And that phenomenon is clearly connected to trauma.
- In some cases CD/ST is accompanied by a muscular constriction of the throat, which may indicate feelings of anger and not wanting to have opinions or obligations shoved down our throat anymore.
- Our body is literally out of control, showing us that we should stop trying to control ourselves, in particular our feelings, our daily lives, our everything. With too much control, our lives stagnate.
- Our neck is forcing us to look in one direction only, although we do not want to look in that direction. In this way, our body may be telling us to stop ignoring and looking away from our feelings, in particular our suppressed anger and grief.
- Usually, left lookers have spastic muscles on the right side. They may be forced to look at a feminine entity or person (left), initiated by their masculine-energy side (right). For right lookers, the situation is obviously reversed. In my opinion, CD/ST often points towards a balance disturbance between left and right, i.e., between masculine and female energies. A woman who has been abused, may force herself to (angrily) look to her right (e.g., face the man who did this to her), using her female (left) neck muscles, which are negatively affected by the trauma.
For retrocollis and anterocollis the situation may be more complex. E.g., these may indicate issues with spiritual growth, or the opposite, issues with grounding in the material world. Or issues with both female and masculine entities/persons.
- Our bodies force us to make our worlds smaller, to decrease our action radius, to acknowledge that we can’t take it anymore, that we’ve overdone it and need time off from the rat race that didn’t bring us any further – or more specific: that didn’t bring us closer to ourselves.
- Also, our bodies are telling us to slow down. To finally start taking care of ourselves, instead of always moving on and finding the needs of others more important.
- With a reduced stress resistance, our bodies show us that we have to be careful with our resources, and stop the demandingness and profusion of work and activity. By losing balance, our body forces us to bring more balance in our lives: relaxation and rest diminish our symptoms.
- We suffer from social embarrassment due to our conditions, which are obvious to others. It’s as though we have materialized what we were always afraid of within the framework of our damaged self-esteem. Afraid to be recognized by others as being different, being less worth. So this provides an opportunity for growth, to start appreciating ourselves, proving to ourselves that we are a whole and worthy being, despite the symptoms.
- The sensory trick shows us that we can really help ourselves. And – I am convinced – that we can also cure cervical dystonia. The sensory trick tells us that the solution is literally within reach!
So, as I see it, the ‘average’ CD patients have experienced childhood trauma, even if they don’t remember it. Then followed a lifespan with accumulating trauma. Suppressed anger played a major role in their lives. Around adolescence, they probably started to suffer from anxiety, or phobias, or depression, etc. Meanwhile, their personality developed as one with a tendency to perfectionism, workaholism, obsessive control, structurizing everything, pleasing others, etc. Forward head posture started to show as a sign of low self-esteem. Later, the disconnect from their bodies became more obvious: they were living in their heads, always working hard, not really able to celebrate their successes, not able to truly feel their emotions, not able to express their true self. And always giving priority to the interest of others. Typically in their thirties, the trauma became more physical. Many CD patients have experienced injuries to the head and neck prior to onset of the symptoms. The symptoms themselves were onset during or just after a period of severe stress. At that point, being around forty years old, the system had accumulated a lifetime of arousal energy and suppressed anger, and couldn’t take it anymore. The entire spinal structure definitely lost balance and collapsed, causing malfunction in the brain-body communication, leading to the symptoms. And those symptoms could very well represent – at the biological level at least – the perpetuated orienting reflex that occurs in the face of a threat. So there they are: out of balance, out of control, having to slow down and make their worlds smaller, social embarrassment, etc. Their bodies have had enough and tell them that they finally need to start looking after themselves.
Not all CD patients are alike of course. It might very well be that there are CD patients without actual childhood trauma, but with later trauma that was severe enough to trigger the symptoms. Others may have triggered their symptoms by getting poisoned or by taking neuroleptics. Those drugs are of course enhancing the effect of any dissociative state, since they are designed to split off even more of our reality.
Concluding, almost all of the points that are summarized in the Phenomena section of this blog are clarified and addressed with the above perspectives.