I’m Shocked!

Shaken AND Stirred

Have you ever noticed that certain events seem to make you overreact? That you snap at seemingly simple annoyances? That particular circumstances or occurrences that seem insignificant to others cause you to go from 0-60 in .2 seconds?

If you can relate to any of these questions, or know someone who can, this article can clarify what is happening and how hypnotherapy can help.

Let’s Look to the Animals

Think of an antelope in the wild. It is grazing with the others in the field on a nice, sunny day without a care in the world. Unbeknownst to it and the rest of the herd, there is a lion lurking in the brush, waiting to pounce. The lion fixes on its prey and makes his move. Almost simultaneously, the herd senses the danger and begins to disperse in all directions, sprinting for their lives.


The sprinting is a natural, survival response that is called neuroception. This response is not housed in the conscious mind, but rather is totally energetic, allowing the animal to sense when acute attention is needed and (re)act accordingly. What allows for a reaction to occur is a surge of stress hormones; this reaction is commonly referred to as “fight-or-flight.”

So, the antelope senses extreme danger and the stress hormones dump a cocktail into the system, making the organs below the waist stop functioning so that all the energy can go to the heart, lungs, and extremities. This hormonal dump is called the Sympathetic Nervous System Response. At this point, the animal can stay and fight with this energy to try to save itself, or it can use the energy in flight and run as fast as it can until it is out of danger.

Shake It Off

Once the animal is safe and out of harms’ way, it needs another mechanism to stop the fight-or-flight surge in order to calm the system down and return to normal. This stream of calming hormones is called the Parasympathetic Nervous System Response. Often times, when this cocktail is coursing through the body, you will see an animal shake its body from head to toe. This shaking is a very healthy response to “shake off” trauma so as to return to normal functioning.

Now what happens if the antelope has gotten the sympathetic nervous system cocktail, is running as fast as it can, and realizes that despite its best efforts, it’s losing the foot race? If you have watched any National Geographic films, you may know that the animal suddenly stops dead in its tracks and falls down, as though it has suffered a massive heart attack. Did it die right there on the spot?


No. This, again, is an energetic, survival response to danger which is caused by a huge surge of the calming, Parasympathetic Hormones. It causes the animal’s vital functions to slow WAY down, to the point where its heart is barely beating and its breathing is practically unperceivable; it is known as the “freeze” response. This survival mechanism serves to convince the predator that its prey is already dead, and thus undesirable.

Again, when the preyed animal is out of danger, the hormonal system corrects the imbalance by dumping more of the stimulating, sympathetic hormones back into the body until normal functioning resumes.

How Does This Apply to Humans?

In humans, this same system is in place and allows us to escape real or perceived danger without thought. However, we have a tragic flaw: our brains.

Who’d Have Thought?

Our well-developed brain actually becomes our biggest obstacle when it comes to traumatic events: instead of shaking off the trauma, we try to reason it out or suppress it. Think about it: Have you ever seen a person experience something traumatic and then shake his/her body? We would most likely be deemed silly and strange. Thus, trauma often remains lodged in our bodies, causing physical, emotional and psychological difficulties.

Our Struggles

Because of our brains, two common dysfunctions occur: Sympathetic or Parasympathetic Dissociation and/or Sympathetic or Parasympathetic Shock.

Sympathetic Dissociation is where a person has so much of the fight-or-flight hormone coursing through her/his body from trauma(s) that s/he dissociates, or leaves her/his body, through constant activity. Examples of individuals with this type of coping mechanism are those who talk all the time and/or are rage-a-holics.

Parasympathetic Dissociation occurs when a person’s body is flooded with the freeze hormone, which allows them to shut down and “check out” through inactivity. These are people who look like they may be daydreaming all the time or those who have a vacant, vapid appearance to their eyes.

These two types of dissociation are what is commonly referred to as PTSD.

Sympathetic Shock occurs when the sympathetic stress hormone is being pumped through the body at a consistent, uninterrupted rate. The heart and lungs operate at increased levels which cannot be maintained. This constant surge of activity-type hormones may be behind the diagnosis of ADD/ADHD. Ultimately, if the calming mechanism does not begin, death results.

Parasympathetic Shock is just the opposite. It is where an individual has a constant surge of the calming hormone, which results in paralyzation, indecision, procrastination and the attitude of, “I give up.” This type of shock may be what underlies depression.

How Do We Get Back to Being Animals?

So, remember when the antelope had escaped the danger and shook its entire body in order to return to a state of normalcy?

This is exactly what hypnotherapy does for individuals.

How Does Hypnotherapy Return the Body to Homeostasis?

Hypnotherapy accesses the brainwave state in which the trauma(s) occurred correcting the experience where it originally got lodged. You see, what happens in humans is that a trauma occurs and the hormones surge because the brain knows the person is in danger. Again, because of the sophistication of our brains, it puts the trauma in a place where the conscious mind cannot access it, all in the name of keeping us functioning in our day-to-day lives.

But the trauma is very much still there, it’s just not consciously available!

And despite our brains’ best efforts, what results is a hyper-vigilant state of being which actually prevents us from being present in our daily lives and inhibits our optimal functioning!

Let’s take an example:

Abby is a 25-year-old professional with a very good head on her shoulders. She has a good family, is educated, independent, and enjoys life to the fullest. She drinks a lot on the weekends, but doesn’t seem to think it’s a problem because she is able to “rally” the next day, get up early, work if need be, or play on all the sports teams to which she belongs. She is very sexually active, and she is proud of her sex life. She is very gregarious and physically attractive, and men find her very charismatic and fun.

Abby came to counseling because her mom told her that she would help her pay for it. But Abby, herself, was curious about hypnotherapy and open to trying it. She said that her mom was concerned about how Abby “never stops” with regard to everything in her life. When asked about this, Abby said that she just doesn’t like to sit down or not do anything: “I get bored.” Abby talked about the men in her life and said that she dates a guy for a while until he begins to “get all clingy and I feel suffocated;” she then starts to cheat on him and then dumps both of the guys to “clean the slate” and find someone else.

After the initial interview, we began the first hypnotherapy session. Abby went into a deeply relaxed state, and I asked her to recall the last time she had sat down and felt bored, as she had previously described. Abby went to a recent time where it was raining outside, she had sprained her ankle while running the day before, and none of her friends were available to hang out. She said that she remembered sitting on her couch and feeling like she was going to go crazy, “I feel like I’m crawling out of my skin.”

While in hypnotic state, Abby was able to identify other emotions that accompanied her boredom. These included fear and anxiety. Abby then went back to a time, a time where she was unsure as to where she was; all she knew was that it was dark.

I asked her some questions to help her get her bearings and she realized that she was actually inside her mother’s womb. She said that she was aware of the fact that it was just before her birth and that there was something wrong: “It’s time for me to come out, but I can’t. I think I’m facing the wrong way.”

Then Abby seemed as though she was panicking. She said that her heart was beating really fast and she began to take short, quick breaths: “It’s hard for me to breathe,” and in session, I noticed that her neck was bright red. I reassured Abby that she was not re-experiencing her birth, but revisiting it. I let her know that she was not in any danger.

Abby then said that she knew why she couldn’t breathe: “The cord is wrapped around my neck and the doctors are worried that I might not make it. I guess that’s when they did the C-section and got me out.”

When asked how she was feeling, Abby said that she had never felt this scared before in her life. “My heart feels like it’s going to burst out of my chest; it’s beating so fast.”

This is where Abby’s Sympathetic Shock came into play. She and her

system were so overwhelmed by trauma that in order to survive, her body kept feeding her copious amounts of the sympathetic hormones.

I had her express her fear, that fear that she had never been able to express as a baby. I asked her to conjure up her adult-self to help comfort the little baby Abby and to help her feel safe. Once she did so, baby Abby began to cry, and then scream: “I’m so scared! I’m not sure that they’re going to get me out!” She then curled up in the fetal position and rocked herself until almost asleep.

At this point, I asked Abby what conclusions she had come to about herself during this experience. Abby said, “I guess that I was all alone in this world and that I couldn’t trust anyone.” She realized then how she had been living her life since her birth believing those conclusions.

During the healing part of her session, I asked Abby what new conclusions she wanted to make. She decided that she wanted to conclude that she was safe, that she was loved, and that she could trust others. She knew that her behaviors would change with these new conclusions, that she would begin to allow for more intimacy in relationships and that she might be able to tolerate “empty” time without the need for constant stimulation.

Abby came in for a couple more sessions, with the intention of delving deeper into her relationship patterns and her hyper-activity. She reported feeling much calmer in general, more able to relax, and she said that she was even sleeping better.

Finally, Abby’s system realized that she was no longer in danger and thus stopped the constant influx of the sympathetic hormones that had been there since birth. This was the first time in Abby’s life that her body was functioning in a balanced and healthy way.

To Summarize

In this article, we learned how animals innately and energetically react to dangerous, traumatic events and how they shake their bodies to return them to normal functioning when no longer in danger. Humans, on the other hand, have a well-developed brain that inhibits us from shaking; instead we either externalize or internalize the trauma in the form of shock. We saw an example of how hypnotherapy helps access where the original trauma is held, form a corrective experience, allow the body to return to homeostasis, and permit the person to be more engaged in his/her life.

If you or someone you know thinks you may be living in a state of shock or perpetual trauma and would like help in “shaking it off”, consider hypnotherapy as the way to do so.

Take care and be well,

Julie Rappaport, MA, LPC


If you have any questions or would like a free, 15-minute consultation to evaluate your specific situation, please call me at 303-396-8084.

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