Understanding Our Trauma : What is emotional trauma?

nervous system map trauma

You can download your copy of the Nervous System Map here.

Foundation in Understanding Trauma : What is emotional trauma?

I want to share my research on trauma and particularly offering ways you can understand the basic foundations of trauma.

You may be reading this because you are already on your trauma healing journey, maybe you’re a practitioner looking to understand trauma better, or it could be new to you. Whichever the case, my intention is to demystify trauma by offering some concepts and teachings to support you to understand trauma from the bottom up.

Understanding trauma is rapidly offering a new perspective in the health, well-being and healing modalities. Many symptoms which have left people suffering for years are now being understood within the trauma context and solutions for healing and resolution are being offered by numerous practitioners.

Personally I find this really exciting news, it means many more people have the possibility to claim back the lives they deserve to live, ones of health, vitality and love.

Over the last 3 years I have focused my professional work on trauma as I see it’s the number one cause of challenges in sexuality and intimacy.

The Beginning

We’ll start at the beginning with the building blocks of trauma and how they operate in your system.

Trauma is not in the event, it’s in our bodies, in our nervous system and in our stress chemistry. Trauma is nervous system dysregulation.

There is a commonly held belief that people living with trauma in their systems need to have experienced a huge trauma such as war, or rape, or a serious car accident. However this diminishes the events and their consequences that they have experienced and how they impact on their nervous system.

lack of parental attunement when growing up

significant stresses such as sitting exams

a relationship breakup

the death of a loved one


Along with our personal experiences we collectively live in a stressful world, we work increasingly long hours, take few holidays, lack the support of a wider community and accumulate environmental stresses through absorbing toxins in the air we breathe and the food that we eat. Our immune systems are compromised and our endocrine (hormonal) systems are pumping out high levels of adrenaline and cortisol (stress hormones) on a daily basis just to keep us functioning.

All these constant stresses are traumatic, they are against health, they are against life at its most fundamental level.

Understanding what is emotional trauma and the nervous system

Essentially the nervous system is responsible for our survival and our biological functions.

In survival mode when a stress enters our environment, such as a dangerous animal, or an angry boss, our nervous system becomes aroused, it reaches a peak arousal, shown as the peak of the curve below, and should return back to its baseline level, as its meant to be time limited. However often we get stuck at the arousal peak and don’t come down again, we call this chronic stress, and its incredibly toxic to our system.

We can see this movement in the Nervous System Map below.

nervous system map trauma

You can download your copy of the Nervous System Map here.

In the green section we’re socially engaged, meaning we feel safe with others, there’s a calmness in the body and we’re compassionate and curious. Its safe to be intimate and our bodies can respond to sexual feelings in a relaxed way.

When a threat enters into our environment the nervous system becomes aroused taking us out of the green space and into yellow, where fight or flight occurs. Here our system is feeling fear but its mobilised meaning we can take action by either fighting or by fleeing the situation.

Along side that if the threat is perceived too great to take action our system becomes immobilised, it moves into the red area which is the territory of immobility or a collapsed freeze. Here our system is facing impending death, it floods with naturally occurring opiates, with the aim to minimise the pain of death. Its in this territory that we feel shut-down, isolated, depressed, and hopeless.


Over time when we live in this constant state of stress our body and mind break down creating symptoms:

Sleep problems

Immune system breakdown

Anxiety/anger/depression and other emotional challenges

Muscle tension/fatigue/pain

Digestive issues

Vascular problems

Sex and intimacy problems

Healing Trauma

Our capacity to recover and bounce back has everything to do with our nervous system, our past experiences and if we’ve lived with considerable stress.

Keeping it all inside means we have no more room, and we expend huge amounts of energy keeping it down, leaving little energy for anything else. Meaning we survive rather than thrive!

To heal toxic stress and trauma we need to increase the capacity of the nervous system and to take out the stress it’s holding onto. This creates more space for social engagement (being with other people) and more room for old traumas to leave, both of which result in greater health, healing and freedom.

Summary – what is emotional trauma?

Understanding how the nervous system works in response to stress, and being able to track where you are on the nervous system map gives you an upper hand when your system gets triggered. When you can name the state you are in you know what’s to be expected on an emotional and physical level and therefore be less stressed by your body’s response.