Let’s Get Clear On What Trauma Is and Is Not
Have you ever wondered if what you experienced was trauma? There are a lot of definitions of what trauma is and isn’t, including the mental health diagnosis of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some folks think that in order to say they have trauma, they have to qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD. While a diagnosis of PTSD can be helpful to access more resources and have a name to put to your symptoms, distress, and disruptions to daily life, you don’t have to have PTSD to have trauma.
In other words, you can have trauma without PTSD symptoms (and the trauma still negatively impacts your life). You can also have trauma with PTSD symptoms. For the purpose of today’s blog we aren’t going to worry about whether or not you have a diagnosis of PTSD. We will focus on what trauma is and how you can understand its impact.
What Counts As “Trauma”?
My favorite definitions of trauma are these:
- Trauma is anything less than nurturing.
- Trauma is anything that is still painful today.
- Trauma is anything that surpasses the brain’s ability to cope
You might be thinking that these are very broad definitions of trauma and therefore everything could be considered trauma. In some ways, you are correct.
Trauma is a universal human experience; it is not pathological. In layman’s terms – you are not crazy or broken if you feel hurt by a traumatic event. It is the impact of that experience that matters, not the event.
How Do You Know If Trauma Is Affecting You?
Read the last statement again: Trauma is the impact, not the event. Why is that important? Because it means you are the only one who gets to decide if something was traumatic or not. No one else gets to tell you if what you experienced counts as trauma or not. Your trauma is valid because of the impact or effect it had (or is still having) on you, regardless of how “big” or “little” society says the event is.
For example, imagine you and a friend are driving down the road and another car runs a stop sign and hits your car. For you, the impact of this car accident may be very traumatic. You have dreams about car crashes, become anxious when driving, and get sweaty and short of breath anytime there is an intersection with stop signs. For your friend, the car accident was a bad experience, but they don’t become nervous when driving or encountering stop signs. The event was the same: a car accident. The impact was different for you and your friend.
Trauma And Loss: What Did You Lose Because Of Your Trauma?
When you hear the word “loss” and “trauma”, do you think of losing a loved one to cancer or addiction or suicide? Oftentimes, we associate death as a type of loss that can be traumatic. But there are many types of loss, all of which are more likely than not to have an impact on you, and thus be traumatic.
Let’s talk about the many types of loss that can be traumatic for a person:
- Death: This can include human or animal death
- Safety/security: This could look like abuse, loss of a job or finances, food or housing insecurity, being robbed, or losing trust in a loved one
- Identity/Ability: This could look like a chronic illness, disability, retirement, or death of a child or spouse
- Relationship/Abandonment: This could look like divorce, separation, death of a parent or partner, or someone not being there for you when you needed them emotionally or physically
- Preparatory: This type of loss is the most invalidated in society because it is grieving a loss that hasn’t happened yet. The most common example of this is a loved one with a terminal illness where you know they will die soon and have a limited amount of time remaining. Society often doesn’t validate this type of loss because it’s difficult for others to understand that you are experiencing a severe loss, even though the person is still alive at the time.
As you may have noticed, many of the types of loss overlap. For example, if your partner died, you would potentially experience four different types of loss: death of your partner; your identity as you transition from being a wife to a widow; a sense of financial security if your partner was the primary income-earner; and the relationship between you and your partner is gone in the way it existed when they were alive.
This is not to say that everyone who experienced this event would identify with the same types of loss (perhaps they become more financially secure after the death due to life insurance), but it gives you an idea of how loss is not one dimensional and thus could have a traumatic impact.
What Are Trauma Responses?
When you experience a trauma or loss, your brain will respond to that impact in a variety of ways. The most common responses to trauma are flight, fight, and freeze.
- Flight: This could look like a desire to escape or run, avoidance, or being constantly busy
- Fight: This could look like aggression, instigating, fighting, yelling
- Freeze: This could look like denial, numbing out, or shutting down
All trauma responses are normal when they are in response to a trauma; they are trying to protect us. They become problematic and disrupt your life when they become a pattern and you respond to everything in life with these behaviors.
If you notice that you have a trauma response to non-trauma experiences in life, such as always sitting in a room so you can see the door at all times, you may consider seeking treatment for your past trauma. Learning how to calm your nervous system and reprocessing the trauma story can create new patterns of behavior that are more functional for your daily life. You can learn to be more present with your family and show up in your relationships. Consider starting counseling or join a group for trauma survivors to begin your journey of healing.
How To Find Trauma Therapy In St. Geroge UT | 84770 | 84790 | 84770 |
Have you been noticing the ways in which your trauma has stuck with you? Do you feel when things that happened a long time ago affect your relationships now via low self-esteem, poor boundaries, walking on eggshells or feeling sensitive / irritable all the time? You are not alone and counseling can help.
If you are curious how trauma therapy and counseling in St. George, UT can help you take the next step forward then start with a call to the Guided Wellness Counseling office. We help women every day make sense of the illogical, painful experiences they’ve survived. You start with coping skills, education and vulnerable, meaningful relationships. Intentional conversations lead to reduced shame, guilt and secrecy.
How would your day-to-day life be different without the overwhelm? With more joy, playfulness, flow and energy. How would your relationships change if you were less irritable, more confident and with two feet firmly in the present moment? Start with calling our office. You are welcome to participate in a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation so we can get you with just the right therapist. We cannot wait to serve you.