Trauma can be defined as deeply disturbing or distressing experiences—a singular experience, multiple experiences, or chronic experiences—that occur in the context of relationship—interpersonal relationships with another human being, relationship to a system such as a family or larger community or society, or intrapersonal relationship to one's feeling of safety. Within these experiences, there is a diminished sense or removal of power. The more we study and learn about trauma, the more we've come to understand how very complex it is, along with the complexity of treating its lasting effects.
All individuals experience and respond to trauma differently, carefully understanding that one experience or way of responding is not worse or better than the other. Some experiences of trauma may include life threatening events such as combat, physical violence, a car accident, a catastrophic event—really anything that involves a direct threat (or witnessing a direct threat) to life. Other experiences of trauma may include physical injuries or abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, bullying, parental neglect (physical or emotional), amongst many others, and when accumulated over time or go untreated, will have a significant impact on our lives. Experiencing trauma can often leave us feeling damaged, unregulated, and "unfixable," particilarly when these experiences happened during childhood, but really they can (and do) happen at any time throughout our life span. What is most helpful is to learn how all kinds of traumas—even if that's not the word we use—physically affect our bodies, brains, and behaviors, how we show up in the world, along with the tools we can use to heal our wounds instead of trying to forget or dismiss or explain away the experiences. Additionally, it's critical to understand that we, as human beings, are all born whole; sometimes along the road our puzzle pieces get jumbled up or scattered about, and healing is about gathering these pieces back together with compassion.
Shame, lack of self-compassion, frustration, fear of failure, and downplaying our pain can all be signs of trauma. Trauma can (and often does) come out physically through a dysregulated central nervous system (CNS). Anxiety, depression, trouble sleeping, muscle aches, restlessness, trouble concentraing, and the list goes on...can be some of the signs of a dysregulated CNS. We often find ourselves comparing our stories or experiences to others, telling ourselves things like "I should be over this by now," or "It wasn't even that big of a deal," or "It happened so long ago, why do I even care any more?" Though the function and hope behind these thoughts is to give us some relief, they, in reality, tend to perpetuate the shame and dysregulation. There are many ways to approach healing trauma, the most effective ways, we argue, are to address the shame, negative thoughts, and physical dysregulation. To read about a specific trauma therapy we provide, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), please click here.