“The wound is where the light enters.

—Rumi

what is trauma?

When you think of “trauma,” what comes to mind? Most of us think of the “big” things: Violence, natural (or human-driven) disasters, accidents, loss, tragedy, etc. And those are some events and experiences that we might all agree are traumatic.

However, we may also experience trauma in our most intimate relationships... abandonment, abuse, neglect, terror, antipathy, even ambivalence. As human beings, for our true well-being, we need to feel seen, heard, and “felt” in much the same way that we need food, shelter, and protection. When our caregivers (when we are children) and our most intimate loved ones (when we are adults) cannot provide that (for whatever reason), our bodies may perceive those experiences of those important relationships as traumatic.

 

It can be helpful to think of "trauma” as any extraordinarily stressful event, experience, or relationship that shatters your sense of  security. The greater the level of helplessness, overwhelm, isolation, and/or fear we feel, the more like your body will “encode” the experience as traumatic.

the good news is...

For the most part, we humans do a pretty good job at "processing" traumatic experiences. We are wired to survive! We are wired to "process" those experiences.

so what is this processing thing?

“Processed” trauma simply means that we are able to come out of an experience with a true sense that it's over and that we are safe. It goes something like this: We run into a bear in the woods. We fight, run, or freeze. If we survive, the bear goes away and we have a true sense that it's over. Whew! We're safe! We can get on with life.

Trauma that goes “unprocessed” doesn't know what to do with itself. So it lingers; it continues to live in the body, not really sure if we’re safe. The body, not knowing if it's safe, continues to send signals of alarm, even when it isn't really necessary. We try to “move on,” but the body is still waiting for the next shoe to drop.

 

And that can have long-term consequences, some of which we aren't even aware. It can impair our ability to connect—to ourselves, to our bodies, to others, and to the world—in meaningful and healthy ways. It prevents us from living the full, rich life we deserve.

so we feel stuck! and what does that look like?

Potential symptoms can be emotional/psychological, physiological, cognitive, and/or behavioral:

  • Panic attacks, anxiety, phobias

  • Depression

  • Attraction to risky situations

  • Feeling “out of it” or dissociated from your body or the world around you

  • Avoidance

  • Patterns of relational problems

  • Aversion to social situations (isolation)

  • Addictions, including drugs & alcohol, sex, shopping, food, gambling, smoking, etc.

  • Increased or decreased sexual activity or other reckless or high-risk behavior

  • Self-harm

  • Nightmares or flashbacks

  • Sleep problems

  • Low opinion of self (shame, worthlessness, etc.)

  • Poor memory (for the incident or for the past)

  • Problems with concentration

  • Digestive problems

  • Amnesia and forgetfulness

  • Migraines and frequent headaches

 

Symptoms may include some medical conditions such as the following, even when there is little explanation for symptoms 

  • Chronic pain, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, lupus, heart disease, cancer, digestive problems, lupus, pulmonary and respiratory conditions, etc.

 

the good news...

There is hope. It is said that trauma survivors don't have memories; they have symptoms: unexplained emotionality, relational chaos or emptiness, deep internal pain or fear, or living life almost robotically. For a trauma specialist, those symptoms don't tell me that something is wrong with you; they tell me something happened to you. 

 

Often clients with traumatic events or experiences in their past are being treated for random symptoms that never address the underlying experience. When unaddressed, the symptoms tend to intensify and other symptoms may develop.

So let do this together.