• What is Trauma and Why Heal From it?

    Trauma refers to the response to an event that our bodies and minds once perceived as a threat. This could be a threat to our safety (i.e. a car accident, a physical or sexual assault, a house fire, etc.), a threat to our basic needs being met (i.e. physical neglect, medical neglect, emotional neglect, etc.), or could result from exposure to high stress situations on a singular or a regular basis (growing up witnessing domestic violence, witnessing a grave tragedy, working as first responder, being a combat veteran, etc). 

    More often than not, when someone comes to me for help they don’t classify what they’ve been through as traumaI’ll ask them to tell me what they call their experiences and they’ll give me a laundry list of minimizing terms to label their pain with. We as a society have somehow sent the message that the term trauma needs to be reserved for a special population, and in my line of work I seldom encounter an individual who feels that they fit into that population, but almost each and every one of them do. 

    So I decided that I’ll be dedicating my next blog posts to breaking it down for anyone who may be like the vast majority of the folks I’ve treated over the years. If you find yourself minimizing your experiences, and telling yourself that everyone has difficult pasts, hard days, and sleepless nights–listen up, these next few blog posts might be for you. And if you find yourself overwhelmed by your experiences, your symptoms, or by any realizations this information brings to you, know that there is help available.  

    We’ve already talked about what trauma is, and what kinds of events can lead to trauma, but let’s talk about types of symptoms that sometimes people struggle with because they’ve been through trauma. In this particular post, I’ll provide a brief overview of each category or cluster of symptoms, but in future posts I’ll describe each symptom in more detail. It is important as you read these overviews that many symptoms of trauma can also be symptoms of other issues, and only a trained professional can tell you if you meet the criteria for the diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). With that being said, if after learning more about these symptoms you believe you’ve got some unresolved trauma you’d like to work through, reaching out to a mental health therapist would be a great place to start.

    • Intrusive symptoms- Are you ever just minding your own business, living life, and all of a sudden a memory or image related to your past pops up in your mind and makes you pretty miserable? You just want to shake your head like an etch-a-sketch and hope that the thought, feeling, or memory will disappear? Or how about nightmares? Or panic attacks in the middle of the night (because maybe you don’t remember the content of your dreams?). These are intrusive symptoms, they stem from your trauma, and they don’t have to control you. You can work with a professional to heal from your trauma and get your life back so that these no longer have a hold on you.

    • Avoidant symptoms- Are you someone who feels the need to say super busy at all times? Need music or the TV or some background noise at all times? Do you need to rely on substances to quiet the sounds/voices/images/memories in your mind? Do you hate being alone, because then it’s just you and the memories/thoughts/feelings? These are avoidant symptoms. There are parts of you that know that facing your trauma is too intense and too painful, so they protect you by avoiding it altogether. You can find peace. With help, you can strengthen your ability to sit with your trauma, process through it, and–believe it or not–learn to love the silence. 

    • Change in cognitions/emotions-  I am permanently damaged, I’m unwanted, I’m unworthy, People are untrustworthy, The world is completely dangerous. Do any of these beliefs feel true for you? Do you have moments of intense negative emotional states such as shame, guilt, anger, sorrow, fear, or depression? Do you find yourself feeling distant and cut off from others, and having little to no desire to engage in things you used to enjoy doing? If so, these thoughts and feelings could very much be stemming from the hard things you’ve been through. While it feels like you’ll never find relief from these things, you don’t have to suffer from these things forever. A trained professional has the skills and techniques to help you overcome the difficulties in your life in a way that may have always seemed impossible.

    • Hyperarousal and reactivity- Do you ever feel on edge? Like you can’t relax or rest to save your life? Maybe you’re tired all day long, but when you finally do try to sleep, you find yourself wide awake and full of energy. Do you feel jittery, always needing to move around? Do you notice that you’re often watchful or on guard, checking to see what’s around you all. Of. The. Time? Do you find yourself glancing toward the door when you’re with family or friends, unable to truly be present and in the moment? Do you feel jumpy or startle easily? Do you feel like you can never really let your guard down, or feel safe? These are common trauma responses, and a trained professional can help you learn ways to relax your nervous system and heal. 

    One or two of these issues on their own are not necessarily indicators that something needs to be fixed. In fact, only you can be the judge of when something’s gotta give. No one can tell you when changes need to be made, because 1. It’s your life and yours alone, and 2. If you’re someone who’s had someone try, you’ll know it doesn’t work anyways. If you’ve read this article to have a better understanding of yourself, know that you’re not alone, and that healing is within reach. If you’ve read this article to have a better understanding of a loved one, know that the best thing you can do for them is show them that you are present, that they are safe with you, and that their healing can look however they need it to.