"I don't know. I think about my trauma constantly, and I don't know if it's because I like thinking about or if my brain just makes me always think about it. I can't turn it off, but sometimes I catch myself thinking about it, and I confront myself into thinking I like thinking about it because I always am, whether I like to or not." - Anonymous friend
Not being able to stop thinking about trauma is a part of the clinical definition of trauma. It's part of your brain/mind's way of not being able to process the event or events.
Traumatic memories are distinct from other memories as they are fixed, deeply ingrained in one’s body and psyche, and consequently extremely difficult to overcome. There is a really great book called The Body Keeps the Score that explores in-depth how our bodies store trauma. When we've endured a trauma, a whole slew of physical sensations accompany those traumatic memories—such as holding one's breath and tensing muscles that need to be dealt with in order to recover from trauma.
It's not uncommon to wish we could delete traumatic memories entirely. Traumatic memories can cause distress and profoundly impact our lives and relationships. While it's not possible to eliminate traumatic memories, we can build barriers to help them become less intrusive and impactful. Taking time to better comprehend the connection between our bodies and emotions is one way to work towards transforming the responses associated with traumatic memories.
To answer the question further of "why can't we stop thinking about our trauma?" let's look at something called the SIBAM model.
The SIBAM model, developed by Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing, describes how we create a complete experience. When we experience trauma our relationship to the experience fragments. Some parts of the experience get over-emphasized (like a sound or a smell) and others become under-emphasized (like bodily sensation during the event).
The main idea behind SIBAM is that we can aid in trauma recovery by knitting back together those fragments. Using somatic tools and techniques, we can rebalance the flow of channels in the brain, allowing our mind and body to more fully integrate. This integration leads towards resolution and a more complete experience of yourself.
The following are brief descriptions of the channels that SIBAM works with:
Sensation: This involves all information coming from your body. It can include things like muscle tension, your relative position in space (like how far or close to something you are), along with sensations from your organs (like heart, lungs, and gut).
Image: This refers to our sensory impressions; sight, taste, smell, sound, and touch.
Behavior: Here we are exploring observable behavior. This broad-ranging category includes gestures, facial expressions, and posture. As well as observable autonomic changes (like an increase in heart rate observed via the pulsation of the arteries in the neck) and visceral changes (like the sound of gurgling in the belly that points to a change in the digestive organs).
Affect: Affect refers to our emotions and their felt experience in our body.
Meaning: Language is the primary means for expressing meaning. The words we use capture the totality of our experience, which is formed through the first four components of this model: S-I-B-A.
After experiencing trauma, some of the channels of the SIBAM model become overactive, which can result in fixed or narrow behavior options. If a sound like squealing tires (this is the Image Channel) and an emotion like panic (this is the Affect Channel) get overly activated and reinforced, a person may spend a lot of energy avoiding situations where squealing tires could be heard. Eventually, driving becomes its own trigger and they limit their driving or travel.
As a result of somatic work and the SIBAM model, they will be able to track how their bodies feel when they hear the tires squeal. Those sensations may indicate a behavior their body wanted to engage in when the trauma occurred, such as turning away or running away. Using that information, they can engage in somatic practices that release the fight/flight energy.
Hearing tires squeal and experiencing the fight/flight energy discharge may also allow them to find new meaning in the sound. Furthermore, as they discharge the fight/flight energy, they may also notice that the sound becomes less triggering and they are able to ride in cars and travel more comfortably. A somatic therapist will help them engage with this process gently and intentionally. By honoring their boundaries, their somatic therapist will gradually build their tolerance for the trigger.