Where Trauma Lives

July 12, 2017

Some of you may wonder if some of the experiences you've had growing up "qualify" as trauma. Maybe you find yourself triggered or suddenly upset or anxious because you're reminded of a bad situation from your past, but in your head you're telling yourself- "its not like I've had a traumatic life." The word trauma means different things to different people. It is always relative to any one individual's experiences. It was once believed that trauma could only be identified if it was associated with severe conditions such as witnessing violence, death or experiencing the threat of death. However recent studies have revealed that people can feel traumatized for many reasons. Repetitive negative feedback, a sense of betrayal from a someone you trust, rejection from a loved one, abandonment, neglect as a child and other personal experiences can set you up for what they now call "small t- trauma". This, as well as unforeseen events such as accidents, deaths, medical complications, exposure to or a victim of violence are all common traumatic events. Researchers have recently coined the terms "Big T-Trauma" and "small t-trauma" to refer to this range of traumatic experiences. Big T-Trauma can be a singular life event that sweeps down and devastates you, or It can be a moment in time when you are completely vulnerable and someone or something slips in and cracks your very foundation in a way that you can't even identify. Small t-trauma can happen in little bits, like the term "death of by a thousand cuts" -- or all at once, overwhelming you and leaving you at the bottom of a deep dark well. Trauma, by its very nature, imprints on your brain. Childhood trauma is especially damaging to one's sense of self because as a child we don't know any different to be able to say "this happened to me, but this does not define me." Further, children don't have the language or often the encouragement and sense of safety needed to express the hurt, the loneliness, the fear or the shame that eventually becomes part of their self identity. Childhood trauma can live in the body your whole life even if your mind has managed to box it away. Individuals develop coping mechanisms in various capacities. Some people have more adaptive coping skills and some have more maladaptive coping skills, but for each of those effected, they do the best they can with what they can. On good days you may not feel anything at all but on bad days it may feel like you're drowning.

 

 

For some who experience trauma they are able to talk to friends, loved ones, find support and process their hurt over time in a way that allows the negative images and emotions to integrate from their right brain where emotion emanates, to their left brain where language and logic process. This is a healthy, though sometimes lengthy  process that results in full integration of the emotional residue of trauma with the overall healthy and positive perspectives of other life experiences, allowing the person to eventually find balance and peace with out being continually triggered. For others, trauma feels too frightening or shameful and they are unable to talk about it without re-living the actual physiological and emotional event. For these people trauma does not integrate, but becomes trapped in the body creating a life time of elevated stress, reactivity, chemical imbalances in the brain such as depression and anxiety. Left unaddressed trauma has been known to manifest in physical ailments ranging from chronic pain to migraines to heart disease.  Trauma is an experience that bi-passes our logical thinking and taps directly into our primal sense of survival. Therefore every event that mirrors or reminds us of our trauma, triggers in us a survival instinct that presents as fight, flight, freeze or submit. Many people report feeling stress in their chest, in their stomach, joints, as headaches or muscle pain. And many people are too busy and too overwhelmed with their day to day life to stop and feel the connection between their stress and their physical well being. If you have wondered about what role trauma plays in your life and find that you are feeling held back or pulled down by negative associations, consider seeing someone who can help you find your internal resources, build resilience and leave the past in the past where it belongs.

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