ASSUMPTIONS LIKE THESE abound in our industry . We promote the idea that feeling the healing power of touch , finding quiet spaces , and having a slim , healthy body makes everyone feel great . But what if these experiences actually create discomfort and anxiety for some of us ?
Sadly , at least 70 % of adults in the U . S . have experienced some type of trauma , and approximately six to 10 percent of those traumatized individuals may develop diagnosable Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ( PTSD ). Those who are traumatized may not experience touch as a pleasant thing at all . When their minds move to a quiet place where they are not distracted by tasks , they may experience disassociation , deep depression or even flashbacks . And the idea of having a slim , attractive body may trigger discomfort at the thought that it may attract the kind of attention that they associate with a previous assault .
Responding to Trauma According to the National Center for PTSD , trauma is described as : “ a shocking and dangerous event that you see or that happens to you . During this type of event , you think that your life or others ’ lives are in danger .” Trauma may be experienced in a one-time incident like an accident , assault , living through horrific natural or man-made disaster or through a series of events that take place over time beginning in childhood and accumulate throughout life , creating damage that goes beyond bruises and broken bones .
In his groundbreaking book The Body Keeps the Score , trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk , M . D ., informs us that trauma can “ reshape both body and brain , compromising sufferers ’ capacities for pleasure .” Since this re-wiring of our nervous system happens at a physical level in the sensory processing centers of the brain , when triggered , it literally blocks out our ability to think logically and process data . As a result , we move into physical and psychological stress responses that may include the urge to fight , flee , freeze or even lose consciousness .
When in this distressed state , we can ’ t access the thinking brain or experience positive feelings if the nervous system has identified something in our environment as potentially dangerous . So , a gentle touch on a particular spot of the body may be unconsciously perceived as the prelude to sexual assault and make us flinch . A startling noise , like the chime at the end of a spa service , may automatically cause us to duck for cover , and even the ubiquitous smell of lavender at the spa might remind us of a violent parent who wore that scent and make us uncomfortable and vigilant .
This doesn ’ t mean that spas should stop offering and promoting their services , nor does it mean most guests don ’ t enjoy them . In fact , those services
MAY / JUNE 2022 • PULSE 59