"There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than
anything that bleeds.”
― Laurell K. Hamilton
What is Trauma?
Trauma is any event or experience that can overwhelm your ability to cope. It can have long-lasting effects on your mental, emotional, and even physical wellbeing. Some examples of the types of trauma that people may experience as children include physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional/verbal abuse (being humiliated, belittled, talked down to, insulted, etc. by a parent, adult or caregiver), sudden death of a parent, bullying, neglect, witnessing domestic violence, witnessing or learning about the death or severe life-threatening injury of a loved one.
In many ways, Trauma is part of the human experience – as we know, people have gone through life-threatening and tragic events since the beginning of time. But trauma can have potentially devastating effects on a person if not processed adequately or if the traumatic experience is extremely negative, egregious or shocking.
We all deal with stress in some form or another on a regular basis. Actually, we are designed to cope with stress, as long as it doesn’t exhaust our psychological or emotional resources. But trauma can be thought of as much stronger and more intense than typical stress and it affects us in a way that can be very powerful and enduring.
One simple definition of trauma is that it is an experience that overwhelms us and shifts our nervous system because of how it triggers the natural fight-flight-freeze response. This response system alerts us to and protects us from danger. Trauma affects us because even after the trauma is over, reminders of the trauma can trigger us and cause us to react as if we are experiencing it all over again. This cycle can cause feelings of depression, anxiety, helplessness, hopelessness, rage, anger, relationship problems and more. It can lead to an overall sense that one is “going crazy.”
There is no exhaustive or definitive list of traumatic events. Trauma can occur in childhood, adulthood or at any time in a person’s life. In addition to abuse, neglect and violence, other traumatic experiences can include rape, assault, automobile or other transportation accidents, fighting in war or combat, fleeing war or conflict, natural disasters, sudden illness or death of a family member or many other experiences.
How Does Trauma Impact You?
- It can affect you in many areas of your life
- It can elicit feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- It can cause changes in your body and brain
- It can impact your quality of life, such as your sleep and your relationships
Trauma, the Brain and the Body
“Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.” – Nicole Reed
We can all probably think of a person who has experienced positive psychological growth and change as a result of a major crisis or challenge in their life. Posttraumatic Growth is the positive transformation that a person may experience in the aftermath of a traumatic event. This is not a new concept – like trauma, posttraumatic transformation is part of the human experience; but many people who work with trauma survivors are paying more attention to the healthy growth that can occur after crisis and tragedy.
There are many different tools and approaches to help people recover from traumatic experiences. For the most part, everyone has a built-in mechanism for resilience, which helps to start the natural process of recovery. Approaches such as talk therapy, constructing a trauma narrative, creative and expressive techniques, somatosensory methods that help you connect with your body, mindfulness, guided imagery and relaxation techniques are some examples.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Movement Reprocessing (EMDR) is a powerful treatment tool that can help some people reprocesses traumatic memories and distressing feelings. EMDR is a way of desensitizing traumatic feelings and traumatic memories in the brain using a non-invasive, guided process called alternating bilateral stimulation. CHAD offers EMDR to clients, but only after a full assessment to ensure that it is appropriate for the client.