Trauma Sensitive Language & Allowance


Trauma Sensitive Language & Allowance

Nicki Miller


A friendly reminder that trauma-sensitivity is a real thing and makes a difference in how people show up in their bodies. The same nervous system that is holding on to trauma is the same one responsible for learning new movement options. How can we learn if we feel threatened?

The fitness and movement rehab coaching framework needs to be more trauma sensitive.
Here’s (part of) why:
Western movement professionals are taught kinesiology through a framework of “shoulds:” this joint “should” move this many degrees in this direction before anything else moves, this muscle “should” contract when we begin this action, generally humans “should” exercise to maintain these capacities for optimal health.
What’s the problem with that?
While this information is wholly valuable to mapping a training or rehab process, what’s often wrong is how these mechanistic features of movement are framed and communicated to people experiencing pain.
Why does that matter?
Pain is an expression of protection from our nervous system. When humans feel threatened, we instinctively protect ourselves. That’s where the famous fight, flight, freeze response comes in. For people with physical and/or emotional trauma history, the neural pathways of protection are so ingrained that a lot of language we culturally take for granted can trigger us- even on subconscious levels- and activate a threat/protection response us that inhibits us from learning what the coach is teaching. Fight might look like asking the coach tons of questions instead of practicing the action. Flight might be dissociating the mind from the body. Freeze might mean pain when you try to move.

Example of a non-trauma sensitive explanation of scapular mobility:
“Your shoulder blades should move in these various ways for optimal shoulder health, but yours don’t.”
What a student might hear:
“Your shoulder blades don’t work right and therefore you’ll probably hurt yourself doing anything, so, sucks for you, you’re broken.”
Trauma-sensitive explanation of the same principle:
“As we build the capacity to consciously experience our shoulder blade movement in these various directions, we teach our nervous system how to trust variation in their positioning and coordination with the rest of the body. The more attention we bring to cultivating this, the less protective the nervous system will be. Over time that means less pain and more movement options.”
The morale of the story:
Trauma sensitive language primes an over-protective nervous system to down regulate enough to be present in the moment. This supports learning and cultivates motivation to practice without diminishing the value of mechanistic training. Win, win!”


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