Have I experienced trauma?
This is a common question clients have. Often, people enter therapy for one issue that is currently bothersome not realizing they have been carrying an extra ‘load’ from the past…the stuff we know as “baggage” which is correlated to their here and now experience. This baggage may indeed be unresolved trauma. Or the opposite happens and people are very aware of how affected, even debilitated they have been by something traumatizing and they are seeking answers, relief and support because their world is closing in.
All of our past experiences create a significant impact on how we handle present day stressors. Think RESILIENCY. The experiences from your past may or may not be traumatic but for the purposes of this article I will speak about trauma.
By definition trauma happens when we experience an overwhelming response to a perceived or actual life threat with an element of helplessness. Traumatic stress lives in the body and creates utter havoc on the autonomic nervous system. Hence, the symptoms of flashbacks, physiological distress, sleep disturbance, chronic health issues, hypervigilance, or an activated flight/fight/freeze response.
Other symptoms include intrusive thoughts, avoidance of people/places/situations that remind you of the trauma (if the trauma is in conscious awareness), dissociation, depression, memory disruption, addictions, and struggles within relationships. Flashbacks can occur in different ways: emotional, visual, bodily. A trained therapist who specializes in trauma can help you to identify the symptoms of traumatic stress which may or may not be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
While you may have experienced a traumatic event years ago, your symptoms might occur long afterwards- this can be confusing for people; “it happened so long ago, I don’t even think about what happened (to me); I dealt with that” are some of the statements I have heard. From my perspective as a trauma specialist, trauma does not resolve on it’s own.
The trauma need not be in conscious or present day awareness for it to continue to affect you today. When someone experiences something traumatic, a part of them stops in time, in that moment. A part of who they believe they are is altered is some way.
We know that the part of the brain responsible for memory consolidation (hippocampus) is affected when trauma occurs, thus memory of the trauma can be disrupted and choppy at best. This is one reason that working with the body is incredibly important.
Many people have suffered developmental trauma which is trauma that occurred in childhood and their current ‘symptoms’ in adulthood do not look like traditional PTSD; yet the effect are devastating to the mind/body/spirit. A solid, trusting therapeutic relationship is absolutely central to the healing of the effects from developmental trauma. Consider you are learning to trust again, and to be vulnerable without being victimized and are reconciling a connection with all of your SELF. This takes time. This takes courage. This takes perseverance.
What makes something traumatic for one person and not another is something we are beginning to understand in the field. Trauma is highly personal and every single person’s journey is unique. Trauma is less about what happened and more about the person’s experience- remember trauma lives in the body.
Some of the questions I want to know when I work with clients who may have been traumatized are:
- What is the nature of the event?
- At what age did it occur?
- What happened afterwards? how was the person treated by others and supported (or not)?
- What are the current symptoms (named above) and duration of these symptoms?
- What has been the impact on sense of self and within relationships?
- What meaning does the person make from this trauma? (e.g. “the world is unsafe”, “I can’t trust others anymore”…)
- What changed before/after?
Trauma is very real and unwanted symptoms can persist years after if not processed or addressed. It affects the mind, body and spirit and thus treatment must be targeted as such. It affects how you feel towards yourself and how you interact with the world around you. In the wise words of one of my teachers, Peter Levine “trauma is a fact of life but it does not need to be a life sentence.”
Healing from trauma IS possible- I have been privileged to walk alongside many clients as they heal deep wounds and reconnect to their ‘TRUE SELF’ and to their life energy.
Please CONTACT me today for a consultation to see if we may be a good fit to work together. If I don’t feel like I am the best person to help you with your unique needs, I will do my best to refer you to someone else. Visit my TRAUMA page to learn more.