WHAT IS TRAUMA
In today’s world, most of us have heard the word trauma at least once. However, what it means and how it shows up in people’s lives is not always clear. This page attempts to give you a better understanding of how trauma manifests in our lives.
It is fundamental to understand that trauma is a very personal experience, and therefore, has many different expressions. This is something I have been able to observe closely in my own history as well as in my work with clients.
We often think that trauma is one single terrifying event. The way it is shown in movies is that sufferers of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) have intense flashbacks and uncontrollable reactions. And few professionals - although that is changing - know how to properly diagnose trauma, so it is hard to get an official diagnosis.
While it is true that symptoms of trauma can be the result of a catastrophic incident, they can also occur due to repeated stress. Many people are unaware that they are even carrying some form of trauma, which makes it difficult to understand why they are experiencing symptoms.
In a nutshell:
Trauma can occur when we are in a situation where we are exposed to (or observe) a danger or threat, combined with the feeling of not being able to escape this situation. (Threat + Inescapability). This combination causes our entire system to go into a state of shock. It may be a threat to our physical, emotional or mental well-being.
However, even experiences in which, retrospectively, we did not feel helpless or exposed, can be potentially traumatic. Not every person reacts the same way to a situation; most importantly, not every body (nervous system) reacts the same way to a situation. Whether an experience is traumatic or not is related to the state we are in at the time and how the event affects our body; and not necessarily our mind.
Unresolved trauma often manifests itself in the feeling that something is “wrong” with ourselves or our lives, and the fear that things can never get back to “normal or just be good”.
Peter Levine explains:
"Trauma can be defined as any unresolved response of the autonomic nervous system. It is about the nervous system's response to an event, not necessarily the event itself. Events can affect each of us very differently."
THE DIFFERENT TYPES Of TRAUMA
1. Schock Trauma:
There was a singular, impactful, event that led to a feeling of helplessness and being overwhelmed. For example: (car)-accident, abuse (physical, emotional, sexual, psychological), an illness, natural disaster, separation, divorce, the death of a loved one.
2. Developmental Trauma / Complex Trauma
Developmental trauma is a special subtype of complex trauma, where the trauma is inflicted when the child is still in development. It also refers to the exposure of several traumatic experiences over an extended period of time. For example, domestic violence, emotional, sexual or physical abuse, physical or emotional neglect.
3. Secondary Trauma
Secondary trauma affects people who are not directly affected themselves, but have experienced trauma through the position of an observer or as a helper on the scene. For example, police, rescue workers, firefighters, or even casual witnesses of violence or other terrible events.
4. Social Trauma
Social trauma takes place in a social context. It is a traumatic event that affects many people and therefore has a broad social impact. For example: train accidents, natural disasters, war, terrorist attacks.
5. Transgenerational Trauma
Transgenerational trauma is also called “inherited trauma”. This type of trauma has become known through the generation of children of war veterans. Parents and grandparents, who experienced war, often reacted with repression or disassociation and were rarely able to process their own traumas. One consequence was that they were insufficiently able to be present for their own children, and unable to be understanding and empathetic. “A skinned knee, problems with classmates, or heartbreak is just not as bad as sitting in a bomb shelter and being scared to death."
Trauma is so much more than PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and does not just affect war veterans. Trauma is the result of when our safety and integrity is in jeopardy.
This can be emotional, physical or mental.
TRAUMA HAS MANY FACES
Working with my clients, I recognize a variety of different trauma symptoms, more than those listed in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
It is not uncommon for people to initially show no symptoms after being traumatized and to be able to continue to go about their daily tasks. Usually, however, this does not go well permanently because the trauma, even if we do not experience symptoms, is stored in our bodies.
I also see, that people are not aware that symptoms they are experiencing are the result of previous trauma. Often, traumatic experiences are “rationalized,” such as, “That was so long ago,” or “It wasn't really that bad”. The body, however, sees it differently, the shock is still in the body.
Here is a list of common and typical symptoms of trauma.
Sleep problems (Insomnia, Nightmares)
Anxiety and Fear
Restlessness / difficulty relaxing
The need, to always be busy
Feeling of being stuck (in life, business, relationships)
No solid sense of self
Low self esteem and / or Low Self worth
A loud inner Critic / Being very hard on oneself
Trustissues (trusting self, others, the word)
Relationship problems (Difficulty to commit, overcommitment, Difficulty to experience intimaxy/healthy sexuality
Difficulties to make decisions
Not having a positive vision for the future
Migraines / Headaches
... and many more
HOW TRAUMA GETS TRAPPED IN THE BODY
Trauma is not only an emotional and psychological event. Trauma is primarily a physical reaction. At the moment of traumatization, our autonomic nervous system reacts at full speed.
An event gets trapped in our body, when we are unable to act on our instinctive physical trauma response, which is known as Fight or Flight. When we can neither Fight nor Flight (run) our system goes into a state of Freeze (Shock).
Because we were not able to finish this instinctive trauma response, it is now stored and trapped in our body and subsequently leads to physical, mental, and/or emotional symptoms.
This is the reason why traditional talk therapy is often not enough and why, in order to fully heal and release a trauma, we need to involve our body (more specifically, our nervous system).
THE GOOD NEWS IS
We can heal from trauma, and we can heal completely. Being healed from trauma means that we, of course, still know exactly what happened, but it is a memory within us that no longer creates strong feelings and symptoms, such as fear, low self-esteem, self-doubt, etc.
I know this may sound unbelievable to many people, especially those who have been in therapeutic counseling for years, without experiencing full release...
THE PATH TO HEALING
The path of healing trauma fully is a gentle path, a path where there is NO re-traumatization by the therapist or coach, but a path back to a sense of safety and inner peace.
I myself have gone through numerous trainings and have found the answer to complete trauma healing in a method called Gentle-Trauma-Release©.