What is Trauma?

The heart of my trauma counseling practice is helping  individuals, couples and groups understand the nature of  trauma— the root of your traumatic wound and how that is playing out in your life–emotionally, physically and spiritually.  With attention, understanding, acceptance and changes in thought and behavior patterns, healing and recovery is not only possible, but can leave you in a more resilient state.

words relating to "trauma," its meaning, sources, and impact

Situations that confront you with great inner pain can set off a process of enormous positive inner growth and healing. This journey can be difficult to make on your own, especially when you are caught up in the midst of distressing and overwhelming trauma symptoms.  But help is available.

These therapy modalities are very helpful for trauma survivors, and develop the necessary skills to recover:

Common Sources of Trauma

“Some people’s lives seem to flow in a narrative; mine had many stops and starts. That’s what trauma does. It interrupts the plot. You can’t process it because it doesn’t fit with what came before or what comes afterwards.” Jessica Stern

A trauma is a stressful event or incident of a threatening nature, which is likely to have a pervasive impact on anyone experiencing it.

Examples include:

  • Physical assault, including rape, incest, molestation, domestic abuse
  • Combat-related single/multiple events (life threatening, witnessing, doing violence to others) that are severe, repeated, prolonged and unpredictable
  • Serious accidents such as automobile or other high-impact scenarios
  • Experiencing or witnessing horrific injury, carnage or fatalities
  • Natural disasters (earthquakes, fires, floods, hurricanes, etc.)
  • Serious bodily harm

Sources of Psychological Trauma that Are Often Overlooked

  • Hearing about violence to or sudden death of a love one
  • Surgery, particularly emergency, and especially in first 3 years of life
  • Forced separation very early in life from primary caregiver
  • Poor or inadequate relationship with a primary caretaker as a child
  • Falls or sports injuries
  • Birth trauma

Less dramatic events and incidents can have a similar effect if they exceed a person’s capacity to cope, or if they are perceived by the person as a threat to their physical or psychological integrity.

The Impact of Trauma. What Happens After?

When you have experienced trauma or overwhelming crisis, it is common to freeze , detach or disown the very part that needs healing.  Your life may feel like it was broken in two.

You may try avoidance strategies that prevent your conscious awareness from getting anywhere near the pain and confusion in order to survive as best as you can. While highly adaptive initially – because it blocks out the pain of the experience(s) at the time – in later life there are often great personal costs attached to these trauma-related, survival-based strategies.

The emotional and physical sensations connected to your traumatic experiences remain unprocessed and unintegrated. You can feel fragmented. This fragmentation shows itself in very uncomfortable symptoms such as:

  • sudden intrusive, overwhelming images or memories,
  • flashbacks and reliving experiences and nightmares.

You may also experience strong emotional or physical reactions, such as:

  • panic attacks,
  • feelings of numbing or detachment,
  • hyper-vigilance,
  • safety behaviors,
  • guilt, including survivor guilt

Or you may have  dissociative symptoms, such as feeling disconnected from your life. Often events in daily life, such as close personal relationships with your family or partners, can trigger and intensify these symptoms.

Recovery Takes Time. You Can’t Force It

You can recover from trauma.  A psychological wound cannot be forced to heal quickly. It is no different from a physical wound. Flowing with the healing process is better than fighting it. This process is one of moving from victim to survivor.

There are some common stages in this period of healing:

  • You develop more control in remembering the event. Memory and emotions are joined. The memory is re-examined and then filed away.
  • You’re still affected by the trauma, but it  no longer overwhelms you.
  • With time, the  troublesome symptoms recede, become more  tolerable a d predictable and then gradually fade away.
  • You are able to reconnect with others and move on with your life.
  • You are able to give some new meaning to both the trauma and yourself as a trauma survivor.
  • You may experience a re-appraisal of your basic priorities and values, which may result in important positive life changes.
  • Some survivors are able to transform their experience, through adversity and suffering, into a gift enabling them to help others in similar circumstances.
“Beneath the surface of the protective parts of trauma survivors there exists an undamaged essence, a Self that is confident, curious, and calm, a Self that has been sheltered from destruction by the various protectors that have emerged in their efforts to ensure survival. Once those protectors trust that it is safe to separate, the Self will spontaneously emerge, and the parts can be enlisted in the healing process”Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma