When you hear the word trauma, what comes to mind? Do you think of something big, like surviving a plane crash or a natural disaster? If so, you are like many others who think of trauma as a tremendously intense event that happens to a person. Trauma is definitely this, but it is NOT JUST THIS.
I look at traumatic events in a person’s life as anything that happens which significantly impacts how a person thinks, feels and acts. Traumatic events change the way a person perceives their world. When a large or small traumatic event happens in a person’s life; events, situations, and interactions with others are all now filtered through a bit of a different ‘lens’. Things suddenly can seem a little less safe, a little more uncertain, and a little less carefree.
Give me an example…
Let’s say that you were raised in a home where one of your parents drank excessively. You have a few memories of this, but not many. The memories that you do have are not very pleasant. They make you feel bad, sad and anxious. You remember fighting and shouting in the home, which at the time was very frightening because you were young and didn’t understand what was happening. Now as an adult, you find yourself getting anxious anytime you see someone have a little too much to drink. You know you are safe and you know there is no threat, but you still feel panicky and you have no idea why your body is responding like this. It’s as though these thoughts and feelings are coming out of nowhere, and it seems as though you have little control over them. To be honest, you have made connections in your brain that link excessive alcohol use with fear, lack of safety, unpredictability and so forth. This is what is being triggered and why you are having the emotional responses of fear, anxiety and uncertainty.
Any event in your past that has impacted you significantly and continues to trigger fear, panic, anxiety, grief or any of the other symptoms listed below, I consider trauma. I said ANY event. This is important because many people feel that anything smaller than a plane crash is not trauma, but rather something that they just need to get over. It isn’t good to judge trauma in this way. What it really comes down to is how your body took in everything that was happening at the time of the negative event. If your body encodes information in a heightened and fear based emotional state, it will likely be stored as such, and you will experience the symptoms of trauma.
But I hardly remember anything…
A lot of times people won’t remember significantly negative events from the past because our bodies are very self-protective. The event happened, and your body took in the information at the time, and like a computer, it was encoded into memory. But, when things are a little too intense, our bodies can choose to protect us by hiding the information away into a unique part of the brain called the amygdala. This is a special area of the brain that can store the information, while protecting you from it. That is why many people have snippets of memories, or no memories at all. But everything that has happened to you and the way your body took it in is there. The body keeps score. That is why you can react negatively to things, develop anxiety and depression or other symptoms, and not even know why.
Physical Signs of Trauma:
- Unexplained sensations including pain
- Sleep and eating disturbances
- Low energy
- Increased arousal
- Depression and fear
- Anxiety and panic
- Numbness, irritability, anger
- Feeling out of control
- Decrease in concentration
- Memory lapse
- Difficulty with decisions
Behavioral Signs & Effects:
- Substance abuse
- Eating disorders
- Impulsive, self-destructive behavior
- Dissociation Changes in interpersonal relationships:
- Isolation, avoidance, social withdrawal
- Sexual disruption
- Feeling threatened, hostile, argumentative
Re-experiencing the trauma (PTSD):
- Intrusive thoughts
- Sudden emotional and or physical flooding Co-occurring Disorders
Uncovering where this all started for you is the first important step. I’ll help you put the pieces together in a way that makes it easier to understand what is happening in your body and why.
Next we will work at integrating the ‘super-charged’ emotions and memories associated with the trauma into your usual, everyday memory. This will help to take the intensity (and thus the symptoms you are experiencing) out of these memories. EMDR can be especially helpful with the processing and integration of this material.
Successful treatment will restore a feeling of safety and security within your life. Negative feelings will lessen, and reoccurring images (PTSD) will stop. In addition, if you have been suffering from depression or anxiety as a result of traumatic events in your life, you will begin to see the symptoms from these conditions diminish. Of course, none of this happens overnight, but with active participation and a dedication to the therapy process, things really can change!
Interested in learning more? I’m here to help whenever you are ready to move into a healthier, happier and more peaceful chapter in your life.