Defining Trauma: What is Trauma? Have You Experienced It?

How do you define trauma? In this blog, we talk about what trauma is and how to know if you’ve experienced it.

Trauma is defined as “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.”

The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood disorders defines trauma as “a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing.” When loosely applied, this trauma definition can refer to something upsetting, such as being involved in an accident, having an illness or injury, losing a loved one, or going through a divorce.

However, it can also encompass the far extreme and include experiences that are severely disturbing such as rape or torture. Because events are viewed subjectively, this broad trauma definition is more of a guideline. Everyone processes traumatic events differently because we all face them through the lens of prior experiences in our lives. As an example, one person may be upset or fearful after going through a hurricane, but someone else may have lost family in Hurricane Katrina, which can bring up traumatic flashbacks of their terrifying experience.

There are also different categories of trauma.

Complex trauma happens repetitively, and its effects are cumulative to the individual. Any future events that happen can retrieve the previous layers of trauma. Therapies like EMDR and Splankna can address and heal the root causes of complex trauma.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can develop when a person is exposed to a traumatic event, such as the recent fires in California. Sometimes physical harm occurred or was threatened. Sufferers of PTSD have persistent and frightening thoughts and memories of what happened, sort of like a mental movie or nightmare set on replay. You can find more information on PTSD at the Center for Anxiety and Mood Disorders.

Developmental Trauma Disorder occurs within the child’s’ first three years of life, which are the developmental phases of attachment. The child learns if the “World is Okay,” and if “I am OK” during the first three formative years of development. This is a set up for attachment issues later in life, and also for addictions, if these first few years contain abuse, neglect, or abandonment. This can impair the child’s neurological, cognitive, and psychological development. It disrupts the victim’s ability to attach to an adult caregiver, and will likely impact the ability to attach in their primary relationships throughout life. This is the foundation of learning to attach to people throughout our life. The various attachment styles are: ambivalent, avoidant and secure. Secure attachment can be relearned in a safe relationship. For more on attachment styles, see Stan Tatkin’s book Wired for Love.

Center for Anxiety & Mood Disorders states, “shock and denial are typical reactions to a traumatic event.  Over time, these emotional responses may fade, but a survivor may experience reactions long term, such as: Anger, Persistent feelings of sadness and despair, flashbacks, unpredictable emotions, physical symptoms (nausea/ headaches), intense feelings of guilt (a feeling of personal responsibility of shame/blame for what happened), isolation or hopelessness.”

Trauma therapy is not one size fits all.

There are various therapeutic modalities that help process trauma, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). When we go through various life traumas, or even experience vicarious trauma from seeing the suffering of other people, the brain’s computer system shuts down. “Shutting down” is a biological response in the amygdala that triggers fight, flight, or freeze survival instincts. When this happens, people will say they feel stuck and unable to move past a traumatic event in their life. Trauma sufferers will either say that “the world isn’t safe” or that they “are not OK/safe.”

EMDR helps reboot the computer system in the brain, and allows it to function as an integrated whole once again. MRIs of people who have done EMDR show that the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex come back on board, and start functioning effectively again. The goal of EMDR is for the previous stressors to no longer disturb or impact the client negatively, and for the person to function well in their daily life, work, and relationships.

Splankna energy work can also help the client to move past the traumatic event, and release what is keeping them “stuck” energetically and in cellular memory, or the cell receptors of various organs in the body. Splankna can also find and integrate/heal “split parts” in soul or spirit which are formed in order to house overwhelming emotional content or trauma memories.

People are wired to heal in safe relationships, not alone.

In order to find healthy ways to heal, we need to process traumatic life events with guidance from a therapist who specializes in trauma and recovery. Please feel free to contact me for a free 15 minute consultation.

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