People with persistent pain syndromes like pelvic pain often say – “what’s trauma got to do with my pain? I’ve never been traumatised.”
They say this because there’s a very common misunderstanding about trauma – that it must be a huge and terrible event – physical or sexual abuse, injury, earthquake, being in a war zone, and so on.
The commonest form of trauma is ‘developmental’.
Imagine, as a newborn baby, having a mother who is, for example, depressed, anxious, alcoholic, indifferent, or self-absorbed. The nurturing and attunement and loving attention you should be getting, which determines how your brain, nervous system and endocrine system develop, is not sufficient.
Now, imagine, as a child, always having to be wary of how your loud and bad-tempered father might react at any given moment. Imagine, as a child, having to work hard to cajole your depressed and worried mother into giving you love and reassurance.
The atmosphere in the house in either case is not going to be one where you can relax and feel safe. Instead, you will be vigilant, compliant, careful and cautious most of the time – maybe all the time. (Hey, we’re not blaming parents here; they will have had a difficult upbringing that made them this way.)
Perhaps the commonest form of trauma, then, is this ‘developmental’ trauma, where, rather than parents effectively attuning to you – instead you are attuning to them. For safety’s sake. This is, biologically speaking, all wrong.
It means that your needs during vital developmental stages of your infant life may not adequately be met.
Ok, what has this got to do with persistent pain or the pelvis?
In the body, the high stress-hormone and the hyper-reactive nervous system profiles triggered by this vigilant emotional state becomes learned and semi-constant.
You will either over-react to life’s challenges by over-doing the stress-hormone response (fearful, wary or perhaps aggressive), or you will ‘numb out’, disconnect because you feel overwhelmed.
Either way, these are both survival states that are supposed to occur when our lives are actually threatened. (‘Attachment’ disturbances at home, like these, feel to the child’s nervous system just like that.)
So the survival states become fixed. You become jumpy, vigilant, over-reactive, anxious – or you will instead ‘space out’ – dissociate – become under-reactive. It’ll become part of the way you are.
Such ‘survival states’, with permanently altered, high-energy stress-responses are only designed to be short-lived (in the wild, you escape and calm right down, or you’re eaten.) But humans learn these states as persistent ways of being.
Something has to give. If you spend your whole time with a high stress-hormone profile, something will shut down.
Migraines, asthma, IBS and persistent or intermittent pelvic pain are four examples of the nervous system adapting to this high stress-hormone profile state.
The high energy of the adrenalized nervous system has to be ‘put’ somewhere. Exactly where the brain chooses to dump it is a bit of a mystery, but if, as an adult, you’ve had a pelvic trauma – a difficult birth, for example, or a bladder infection – the nerves in the pelvis become the site of excessive nervous activity; triggered by the event, but maintained by your tendency for a high stress-hormone profile. It’s usually the weakest link in the system that malfunctions.
But, just like with migraine, where it isn’t necessary to have a trauma in blood vessels in the brain to develop a migraine habit, so it isn’t necessary to have pelvic anatomy trauma to develop pelvic pain. There’s usually some weakness in the pelvic system somewhere – but it’s not always easy to find.
Therefore, alongside learning to feel, relax and gently stretch the pelvic muscles, alongside learning to breathe more in your belly, alongside learning stress-management techniques, you also may need to learn how to re-wire the post-traumatic, stress-hormone-producing habits of the nervous system. The Pelvic Health Group has the expertise to help you.
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