Today I’m talking with Dr. Aimie Apigian. She is a leading medical expert on how life experiences get stored in the body and restore the body to its best state of health through her signature model and methodology, the biology of trauma. In addition to her medical training, she’s also a functional medicine physician, and has training and certification specifically in neuro autoimmunity, nutrition, and genetics for addictions, mental health, and mood and behavioral disorders.
Even though it’s an obviously a difficult subject and knowing, at least when I was in clinical practice, knowing that trauma is such a difficult thing to go through for so many people I’m so glad that you’re doing it because you have such a warm, kind, gentle approach to it that I think is really accessible for a lot of people. So thank you for doing this work because I think it’s really important. I want to start by maybe just defining what trauma is because I think most people they think of trauma as you know, the big deal, big T type of traumas, which of course are traumatic and we should definitely talk about those. But there’s so trauma It’s such a bigger topic than just that. So I thought maybe you could just tell people, what does it actually mean to have gone through trauma?
What is Trauma?
All this is a great place to start the conversation because you’re right, like we need to redefine trauma, we have misunderstood it. And because we’ve misunderstood it, we haven’t known our way out of it, and through it back to a place of restoring goodness and wholeness, wholeness to the body.
So trauma is actually, I don’t know if I’m going to offend some people with this. But trauma is actually has nothing to do with the event. And I say that because as I have looked at all the different types of expressions of trauma that I see in people’s biology and their diseases in their physical health, not to mention other aspects of their life, it’s become clear to me that no, like the traumas still is in their body.
It’s not like the trauma No, that that was five years ago, that was 20 years ago that was that was then. No, it’s like, the trauma is still existing and still carrying out. And so then I started to look at, well, then what makes something be a trauma, what is it about the event, and I had to find out that it has nothing to do with the event itself has nothing to do with the event, it could be a single event in time, it could be a continuation of something that person had to live through over 10 years.
So it’s not the event, it’s actually our systems reaction to the event, or to the situation or to the environment. Because there are many things that even I mean, even we can do to ourselves, right, like eating, eating inflammatory foods, that actually can become a trauma response in your body. And you’re looking at me like, No, right? Like trauma is an event trauma is that thing. And it’s like, no trauma is our body’s response to something in a way that our body gets overwhelmed in its capacity to stay present with it. And so that’s become my definition of trauma, if I had to narrow it down to just a phrase, it would be anything, anything, that for any reason, at that time, overwhelmed our body.
What is the difference between a ‘big’ trauma and a ‘small’ trauma?
Yeah, this is why I think there’s so much overlap and synergy between what you do and what I do, because I feel like in order to actually approach life proactively, you have to understand what’s going on in your subconscious. And that could be your subconscious brain, it could be your subconscious body, it could be your, you know, subconscious reactions, like the way that we behave in response to an event, a trauma, an experience. And I used to tell people, even in my practice, and again, this would stress people out, but I would say things like, you know, if they’re if you as a child, even if you were, you know, 18 months old, and your parent was going to work, and you were left at home, and you believed somehow, that your parent was not coming back, that could have been a traumatic experience for you. And I say this with much love being a parent, knowing that we can’t protect our kids from every experience, and we can’t, you know, change everything we do just to protect them from an interpretation, of course, we have to go back to work, or we have to leave the house for some reason, right? Like these things happen. But if somehow, as a child, you understood that event in a certain way that could be experienced as traumatic for you, and I’m hearing that you feel the same way.
The body, emotions and responses
Yes. And what I have landed on is that the thoughts are often just the response of our body. And so our body is having an experience of overwhelm. And that leads to the understanding of, Oh, my goodness, they’re never coming back. And this is where, like, I’ve really landed on this idea that trauma is not your psychology. And that’s, but that’s like you’re saying, like for us. That’s what is in our conscious awareness. We are aware of our thoughts.
We’re not aware of all the stuff underneath our thoughts. But yet, that’s where trauma really is. Trauma is all of that stuff underneath the thoughts. And so for me, it’s been so freeing. It’s so liberating for me to be able to say, Wait a second, that thought is just the expression of what’s underneath it. I don’t actually have to focus on the thought, think that the thought is real. It’s just that Well, isn’t that interesting that I’m having that thought because that means that my system just went into a trauma response. And I know what to do when it goes into a trauma response. And so it for me, it’s just like, an indicator on on the dashboard of my car. Oh my god. slight just came on. Got it, I need to go fill up with gas. It’s just a marker for what is happening underneath the surface that I can then go and bring that up to conscious awareness. Whereas before it wouldn’t have been just my thoughts.
Awareness of our trauma
Yeah, for sure. So much, so much happens without our conscious awareness, right. Like that is the hard part. And I think that’s why we talk so much about childhood, even though trauma can be experienced as an adult, or, you know, whatever age, but we talk a lot about trauma childhood, because you experience something as a child very differently.
You react differently, you’re not thinking, you’re just feeling your body’s going through something, which I assume is why you call it the biology of trauma, because your body is feeling, you know, chest tightness, stomach butterflies, you can eat whatever it is, you’re feeling an emotion, you want to cry, you want to lash out, you want to have a tantrum, you’re having some feelings, some emotion, some physical sensation that you can’t articulate, partly because children don’t have the words to articulate, but partly because it’s actually happening before you realize what’s happening in the way that if a car is coming, you run out of the way before you realize that car is a blue, you know, Toyota, whatever it is, right? Like you’re thinking, you’re thinking happens later. And it’s sort of a initial reaction, which is, I think, why it’s so hard to change those patterns.
Changing your trauma patterns
It’s very hard to change those patterns. And one of the things that I will hear sometimes not always, but sometimes people will tell me, Oh, I’ve processed, I’ve processed my childhood. I’ve processed my trauma. And as the medical physician, right, like, awesome, awesome, how awesome for you. And yet, why then, are you still struggling with so much inflammation? Why are you developing an autoimmune condition? Why are you overweight? Why are your cortisol levels low or high or somehow imbalanced? Because when I see those things, it’s the body telling us communicating with us. I’m still in stress or overwhelm, I have not healed yet.
Disconnecting the Mind and the Body
And this is the big disconnection that can happen between the mind and the body. And we are so good at that I was so good at that I was my goodness, like, I feel like I was the queen of that, where I could live so much in my head, I could live only in my head. And being able to think that I understood something, being able to think that I processed something.
And yet my body was telling me a very different story. And I just wasn’t listening. And, you know, you say that kids sometimes don’t have the words to describe body sensations. Adults don’t cry body sensations, especially if they were like me, you know, super nerdy, geeky, right? Like I love to love to be in my head. I love to study give me a book, give me something that analyze Rishma give it like an I am at my happiest, but give me something to feel. And I’m like, Oh, this is uncomfortable. Right. Now obviously, I’m talking about pastimes, because I have done so much work. Because I’ve needed to I’ve needed to.
But that’s where, again, so many people without having that conscious awareness that their body is even talking to them. That pains, tiredness, exhaustion, inflammation, acid reflux, like everything is our body, giving us a message and communicating to us. And when we just give it a pill, even if it’s a prescription medication, or if we’re just trying to make that symptom, make that sensation, just make it go away. We’re still living just in our heads. And we haven’t made that connection, that longest journey that seems to be between our head and our body. We haven’t done that journey yet. And that is where the biology of trauma can totally be carrying on without our awareness. Or we’re aware of our physical health conditions and have no idea how that actually is related associated at all. With life experiences that we may think they’re in the past. They shouldn’t they shouldn’t affect me anymore, or no, I’ve done a lot of therapy. So I think I’ve processed all of that. Maybe, maybe, awesome, maybe, let’s just look at your body. And what is your body telling us and by looking at your biology, looking at your physiology, there are so many markers that I have to be able to see how effectively you have actually been able to process trauma that you’re living above it, or you’re still living in it in your body.
Dr. Aimie’s approach to trauma is unique, so this episode is a really good one.
She talks about
- the difference between processing and regulation
- how we’re aiming to be able to ‘ride the waves’ of life
- the triggers for trauma and so much more.