About the Author
Josh Spurlock, MA, LPC, CST is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Certified Sex Therapist with over 10,000 hours of clinical experience. Josh specializes in trauma care, Marriage Counseling and Sex Therapy.
This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.
Trauma refers to a range of negative experiences that result from physical or psychological harm, or the threat of harm, to oneself or to those we love. It can stem from a single traumatic event or a series of traumatic events that are individually or cumulatively overwhelming to the nervous system and its ability to process and regulate emotions.
When a traumatic event occurs, the nervous system activates the fight or flight response, releasing stress hormones, and increasing heart rate and blood pressure. This response is designed to help the person survive the immediate danger. However, in cases of trauma, the person is unable to effectively process the experiences associated with the event and the nervous system is not able to regulate itself effectively. This leads to persistent symptoms of anxiety, irritability, emotional dysregulation, and depression, as well as changes in brain structure and function that affect the person’s ability to process emotions and experiences in a healthy way.
The importance of co-regulation in trauma healing
In order for healing to take place, the traumatic experience must be reprocessed through a process known as memory reconsolidation. This process involves reactivating the traumatic memory under conditions of safety and co-regulation, which helps the person make sense of the experience and re-encode the memory without overwhelm.
Co-regulation, or limbic regulation, is when the brain synchronizes with another brain by receiving cues of safety, comfort, and support. This state of co-regulation prevents suffering from becoming traumatic by regulating the brain and preventing the triggering of a traumatic response. The absence of co-regulation, or unwilled and unwanted aloneness, in the face of overwhelming emotions causes the brain to go into emergency self-preservation mode, leading to trauma symptoms.
The resistance to change in traumatic memory
There is often resistance to opening up the traumatic experience due to the fear of reliving the overwhelm. Traumatic memory is resistant to change because the brain does not want to be re-traumatized, which can happen if conditions of safety and co-regulation are not present when the memories are reactivated. To bypass these defenses, the person must have a felt sense of safety and believe that the accompanying counselor is able and willing to co-regulate the experience to avoid overwhelm.
The need for safety and co-regulation
The need for safety and co-regulation, and the awareness of whether it is present or not, is an unconscious body awareness known as neuroception. Healing from trauma requires an earned secure attachment relationship that provides a sense of safety and trust that the nervous system will be sufficiently regulated so that defenses can relax and internal working models can be updated.
Trauma is a complex and often persistent phenomenon that stems from physical and/or psychological harm or threat of harm, along with the absence of something necessary for healthy existence. Healing from trauma involves reprocessing the traumatic experience under conditions of safety and co-regulation, which can be achieved through Neuroscience Informed Christian Counseling (NICC). Understanding the importance of co-regulation in trauma healing and the resistance to change in traumatic memory is crucial in the journey towards healing and recovery.