Image by Augustine Wong

 Trauma

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“I have come to the conclusion that human beings are born with an innate capacity to triumph over trauma. I believe not only that trauma is curable, but that the healing process can be a catalyst for profound awakening—a portal opening to emotional and genuine spiritual transformation. I have little doubt that as individuals, families, communities, and even nations, we have the capacity to learn how to heal and prevent much of the damage done by trauma. In so doing, we will significantly increase our ability to achieve both our individual and collective dreams.”

Peter Levine, Founder of Somatic Experiencing

What is Trauma?

 

 

The word trauma in the Cambridge Dictionary describes trauma as

 

  1. severe emotional shock and pain caused by

  2. an extremely upsetting experience

 

I often hear clients say, I do not think I have trauma.  This is because we often associate trauma with big stressful events or situations. Many of us are aware of the term PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and we have heard stories of soldiers coming home from war torn countries who are then diagnosed with PTSD due to them being impacted by shocking situations.  However, in Psychotherapy we have a broader view of trauma and how it can occur. 

 

Before I go into the types of traumas that exist and how they can occur and what types of symptoms are related to trauma, I want to explain in simple terms what causes trauma.  You might even see that to some extent pretty much all of us have been faced with a “trauma” at some point in our lives. Some of them we might call little “t” traumas, traumas that are generally not highly impactful on our health and wellbeing and big “T” traumas, those which can be more impactful on our overall health and wellbeing.   But whether it is a little t trauma or a big T trauma, It is how a trauma might have impacted us that may make us decide whether we might seek out a Psychotherapist for extra help. 

 

In it´s simplest terms trauma is something that occurs when we become “overwhelmed” by a situation or incident that we perceive as a threat to our life, our identity or our sense of self.   Trauma can also be the result of witnessing a trauma that has happened to others.  When we are under threat our nervous system goes into a fight flight state, either indicating for us to flee or if not, maybe fight our way out of the situation towards safety.  

 

However, as humans we often cannot act on our instincts, either because we may actively override them or because we simply cannot flee or fight against the threat. This causes our nervous system to be overwhelmed by energy which cannot be directed into action, resulting in a shut down freeze type state. This can cause a dysregulation in our nervous system and lead us to have emotional and/or physical issues; some of which I outline below. It should be said, that we do not always have trauma from what can be viewed as potentially traumatic situations or events. There are many other factors, which I will not go into here that can impact whether a trauma could processed at the time, without leaving it´s imprint on us.  However, It is my belief that by working on our wounds, pain and symptoms from our traumas that we are not helpless and we can come back to ourselves, feeling more whole and well again.

 

I have listed here the main types of traumas and some of the situations that can lead to trauma.  I have also listed some of the symptoms that can be associated with trauma.  For more on trauma, my blog goes into more depth on subjects such as chronic illness, neuroscience, spirituality and ancient healing views on trauma.

 

Shock Trauma

 

This is acute trauma that has happened as a result of something happening quickly or unexpectedly.  This is a big T trauma category and is often associated with PTSD.

 

Examples:

 

Muggings or beatings

Shootings or explosions, e.g. in war environments or dangerous countries

Natural disasters

Sudden extreme loss

Sexual assault

Difficult childbirth

Road accidents

Going under an anaesthesia whilst feeling unsafe

Getting extremely ill suddenly

 

 

Complex / Developmental Trauma

 

This is often experienced from childhood and involves situations or experiences whereby the child was unable to feel safe or connected with their caregivers.  It often occurs when the person has been exposed to a situation over a prolonged period of time and they may have been made to feel powerless, overwhelmed, manipulated, coerced, or maybe trapped emotionally or physically.  Or they have maybe experienced some form of emotional or physical neglect or abandonment by their caregivers. For some, these experiences can lead to higher impact big “T” trauma.

 

Examples:

 

  • Emotional abuse

  • Domestic violence

  • Emotional neglect

  • Abandonment

  • Verbal abuse

  • Manipulation

  • Physical abuse

  • Bullying

  • Sexual abuse

  • Physical neglect

  • Sibling abuse

  • Being raised in a cult environment

  • Inconsistent care from caregivers

 

 

Intergenerational / Trans-generational / Collective Trauma

 

This is trauma that is passed down within families, communities and cultures.  Whereby, the traumatic experience of others impacts the wellbeing of the individual.  

 

Examples:

 

  • Children of holocaust survivors

  • Racism

  • Displacement or forced removal from home and country

  • Living with parents with trauma

  • Living with parents with chronic illness or depression

 

 

Little “t” traumas

 

Examples:

 

  • A hurtful remark made by a parent that you never forgot, maybe leading to distorted self-beliefs.

  • A dental appointment that was overwhelming, but you had to stick it out!

  • Moving house

  • Being ridiculed at work or at school

 

 

Vicarious Trauma

 

Vicarious trauma can happen when you are frequently in the presence of people who have been traumatised. For example, people who work in the helping professions, doctors, psychologists, can be vulnerable to picking up trauma type symptoms from their patients and become “trauma fatigued”.

 

 

Below are some examples of symptoms you may experience due to trauma.  Please note that having any of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have an issue with trauma, you need to discuss this with your health care professionals to establish if there is a relationship between your symptoms and trauma:

 

 

Typical Symptoms

Cognitive

 

  • Forgetfulness

  • Disorientation

  • Intrusive thoughts

  • Distorted self beliefs and though patterns

  • Loss of recall memory and concentration

  • Nightmares

  • Flashbacks

  • Intrusive or imposter type thoughts

 

Behavioural

 

  • Emotional responses, e.g. anger, rage, shame, sadness

  • Feeling and appearing detached from your environment (dissociation)

  • Self-isolating, avoiding places and people.  Especially if they are a trauma trigger.

  • Difficulty in maintaining healthy relationships, this can be due to things like distrust, or over dependency or a general difficulty in connecting.

  • Excessive shyness and difficulty making eye contact

  • A lack of interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyed.

  • Addictions

  • Compulsive behaviours

Physical or Somatic

 

  • Pain

  • Chronic illness

  • Fatigue

  • Auto-immune issues

  • Syndromes

  • Ticks

  • Tachycardia

  • Insomnia or sleeping issues (apnea)

  • Sexual issues

  • Chronic muscle patterns and tension

  • Always on alert

 

Emotional / Feelings

 

  • Sense of not being safe

  • Numbing, disconnecting, zoning out.

  • Anger

  • Irritable

  • Panic attacks

  • Shame

  • Self-loathing

  • Chronic anxiety

  • Depression

  • Sadness

  • Aloneness /loneliness

  • Trapped

  • Sense of dread

  • Addictions

  • Compulsive behaviours

 

 

Contact me here if you would like to make an appointment to discuss your personal situation further.

 

More can be found on my blog.