What is Trauma?
Trauma can occur when a particular situation goes beyond our normal capacity to cope or manage, meaning, the experience is overwhelming.
The overwhelm could be an emotion, such as terror or helplessness, or a feeling of being trapped with no escape or a sense that you are going to die! Another way of looking at trauma is when the overwhelm ruptures our sense of self, so who we take our selves to be feels broken. I think somebody described it like being humpty dumpty and not being able to put all the pieces back together again. Traumatic events, if not worked through, can leave long lasting ramifications to mind and body resulting in a large menu of possible psychological and physiological ailments.
It is important to note that it is not a situation or circumstance that causes trauma per se rather how an individual responds and reacts to the circumstances. For example, not every soldier who has had to fight in a war ends up with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, even though the risk is obviously enhanced of getting PTSD, because of the sustained threat of injury, death and the potential of witnessing of horror.
Trauma can happen at any age, with many traumas occurring when we are very young i.e., in utero, during birth or as an infant. During this developmental span we are more susceptible to trauma as our nervous systems don’t have the capacity to manage the high arousal states if there are significant episodes of distress, especially if this distress is sustained for too long. As this period of time is pre-verbal it is invariably out of our awareness, mainly because it gets shunted to the side – in the unconscious – and placed in the too hard basket for another day. Due to this splitting off, we can go happily (figuratively speaking) through our lives not knowing about these events, but be experiencing the consequences and repercussions as they get manifested via a myriad of health issues as a result.
Impact on Body Mind
One way I see the impact of trauma is like a contraction or a solidifying impact on our sense of self, where our life force and capacity of expression through emotions, relationships and mental functioning are thwarted. It’s like our psychology and body hunker down by contracting more tightly and solidifying our defenses to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Fortress self gets created!
It’s actually very clever that our body/mind systems are able to do this as a way to keep us safe. The sad part is that we can stay contracted and fixed in a certain way thus limiting our inherent potential. The good news though is that we don’t have to be victims of our past or immediate traumas. There are now a number of therapeutic techniques that support healing of trauma and leading a more rewarding life. The phrase that is being bandied around these days to describe this new possibility is post traumatic growth.
Wishing you well,