What is trauma?
Trauma is the experience of surviving an event that threatened sense of safety and/or life. Trauma is defined through an individual’s subjective experience to an event, not the event itself. This means that two people can survive the same event and have different perception and memory of what transpired.
One person may remember feeling empowered and stronger than life during a dangerous situation, while another individual may later report feeling helpless and paralyzed during the same event. One person’s emotional response to an event is not the blanket response for all other survivors.
When we think of trauma we also tend to think of big events, but the truth is that we experience “mini traumas” every day. Events that we replay in our minds that bring up feelings of unease, shame, embarrassment, guilt or anger are also mini traumas. The brain replays these events in an attempt to make sense of the event or work through it, but this can be difficult to do without the work of a therapist.
Trauma is different for everyone, and not all traumatic events lead to emotional and psychological trauma.
Trauma can happen as a result of years of repeated events, such as experiencing years of childhood abuse/neglect, living in a refugee camp, being a prisoner of war, serving in a war or being in an abusive relationship. Trauma can also be the result of a singular event, such as surviving an accident, experiencing a rape, living through an extraordinary event or witnessing someone get seriously hurt. Chronic conditions like homelessness, witnessing some close to you struggle with addiction or living in a dangerous community can also perpetuate trauma.
Once an individual experiences trauma, the brain structure changes. In time, the brain loses its ability to cognitively differentiate between being in a dangerous situation and being in a perceived dangerous situation that is actually safe, which is why people with trauma will report, for example, feeling unsafe (despite being in a safe environment), waking up in the middle of the night in panic or having a high startle response if surprised.
Sometimes trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are used interchangeably. Both terms take into account the following prior to making a diagnosis.
- Experience of a particular event (or multiple events)
- Current ability to cope day in and day out
- Present distress as a result of the real or perceived event
What is therapy for trauma and will it work for me?
Trauma is most commonly processed through three methods as seen below. Continue reading about therapy for trauma here.
1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Trauma
CBT helps individuals process thoughts and feelings connected with a traumatic experience and teaches clients how to be their own referee. Some thoughts are true, some thoughts are not true and some thoughts have some truth. Dissecting traumas through the lens of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), my clients are taught how to monitor their own thoughts, identifying which thoughts are real and which are fear-driven.
2. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR) and Trauma
Through bi-lateral stimulation (left/right eye movements or left/right knee tapping) the left and right hemispheres of the brain “talk” together, unfreezing emotional and cognitive memories while reprogramming the brain’s neural pathway.
3. Somatic Experiencing
This approach gives permission for the client to focus on the body’s memory of the event, allowing the client to follow the physical trauma memory while riding through the sensations and ultimately releasing the physical trauma memory from the body in an experiential exercise.
Trauma memories are painful. With the help of a good therapist, those memories can become less painful. Once trauma is processed, you will find yourself more present-focused, less distressed and happier, not to mention watching your relationships improve.
If you’re ready to find peace and cope better day to day, contact me.