What is Shock?

by Stephanie Mines, PhD, author, We Are All in Shock

PC: Pixabay

Shock begins the moment when we are confronted with an experience so stunning that our body/mind system is overwhelmed. A baby separated from his or her mother at birth; a child in need of attention who is ignored by busy parents; witnessing the death of a friend or a loved one; losing a body part in war, a child at birth, or all your possessions in a natural disaster — these experiences are the settings for shock. When trauma occurs, it strikes and wounds, but when shock occurs, it shatters us into a million pieces and it takes some time to find them all.

Shock occurs as the result of any experience that overrides all our healthy coping mechanisms. The shocking experience confuses our nervous system with its extraordinary demands and disrupts our normal and balanced neurological and endocrine responses to threat. Lacking any resources to cope, we feel as though our nervous systems are failing us. In a micro-instant, we are overcome with utter and complete vulnerability, and this seems to silently seal the experience in the very cells of our being.

Trauma, on the other hand, primarily stimulates the limbic brain, which accesses resources to respond. The overriding and extreme nature of shock is an all system alert. Trauma, by comparison, is more orderly, sequential, and developmentally specific. For those who are unfamiliar with both brain structure and developmental psychology, this can be said more simply. You could say that the difference between the two experiences is a matter of degree, with trauma being the less overwhelming experience. The issue of magnitude is significant because it affects not only the physical consequences of the experience, but also the duration and expression of those consequences. This difference in magnitude requires differences in treatment.

Before we go any further, I’d like to broadly address the whole issue of terminology so that we are not waylaid by it as we proceed. The terminology regarding shock and trauma is in flux. This is promising because this flux represents growth, evolution, and needed change. Though “trauma” and “posttraumatic stress” appear to have temporarily become entrenched definitions, new language has already started to emerge. Refining the use of the word “shock” is part of this process. Both words also have medical definitions apart from their psychological applications, with trauma relating primarily to a wounding or bodily injury (trauma to an area of the body) and shock relating to a nervous system condition that radically lessens or even eliminates the ability to feel sensation. Even from a purely medical frame of reference, trauma is specific whereas shock is global.

The most recent and developing literature reflects the growing number of variables in the trauma-shock continuum, including unique conditions of socioeconomic status, heredity, previous exposure, cultural differences, and personality structure. This is a wonderful transition and is already expanding our capacity to treat both conditions with enhanced respect for the courageous survivors of shock and trauma. Terms like “posttraumatic thriving” and DESNOS (disorders of extreme stress) are part of this fruitful refining that considers, in addition to the factors mentioned above, the many variations in physiological response, with each variable having relevance.

Through the true stories told in these pages, I will portray the broad spectrum of experiences that I have categorized as shock. This includes major and minor shock, early shock, immediate shock, conditioned shock, and residual shock. My primary point at all times is to demonstrate how shock can be thoroughly resolved by the very individuals who experienced it. The transmission of these tools is the centerpiece of this book.

I am convinced that resolving shock is the missing link to empowerment today. I see the empowerment process as one of attuning the body and clearing out the cobwebs from our brains, nervous systems, tissues, and joints. When primitive responses, both physiological and emotional, no longer rule our behavior, we are liberated into a spacious spontaneity that directs all our movements and expressions. As we do this clearing away, we begin to know what it means to truly live. We feel both our inherent buoyancy and our earthiness. Life becomes a celebration when we step into the present and the shocks that occur, whether large or small, are wisdom teachings to expand awareness. This is what it means to come out of shock.

We are all in shock today because we have not been able to make a choice to be shock free. Ironically, our inability to make choices is directly related to the fact that we are in shock! We must heed the I Ching and use the repetition of shock that has afflicted us to go within and find the wisdom teaching for each of us personally and for our time. If we continue to see ourselves as choiceless, we will condemn our children to a choiceless future. By tracing the etiology of shock and pointing out its distinguishing characteristics, I hope to awaken your own awareness of shock so that you can choose to come out of it. Only you can make that choice. If you want to come out of shock, this book will give you the fundamental support to do so. You can bring yourself out of shock with the information in these pages. Then, when overwhelming events occur, you will not be so shattered. You will know, from the core of your being and the behavior of your nervous system, that shock is in the moment and healing is forever.

Adapted, and reprinted with permission from New Page Books, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser LLC, We Are All in Shock by Stephanie Mines, PhD is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at www.redwheelweiser.com or 800–423–7087.

Dr. Stephanie Mines is a psychologist whose unique understanding comes from her academic research as well as her extensive work in the field. Her blend of Western and Eastern modalities offers the best of both paradigms. Dr. Mines is the Program Director of the DOM Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing alternative health options for a broad spectrum of populations. Her books represent an overview of her mission to create a bottom-up, empowerment-based sustainable healthcare revolution. These include: We Are All in Shock, New Frontiers in Sensory Integration, and most recently They Were Families: How War Comes Home



Imprints include Red Wheel, Weiser Books, Career Press, New Page Books & Hampton Roads. Books to live by.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Red Wheel Weiser

Imprints include Red Wheel, Weiser Books, Career Press, New Page Books & Hampton Roads. Books to live by.