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Not All Wounds Are Visible


Understanding Trauma

What is Trauma

Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that happens to an individual, a family, and/or to a culture. These events or situations are so emotionally painful and disturbing that they often overload a person’s ability to cope. According to the American Psychological Association, “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.” (APA.org).

A great amount of our psychological pain can be due to unresolved trauma, so it’s important to understand what trauma is in order to see how it relates to eating disorders, addictions and the range of issues clients bring to therapy. 

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Therapy session

Trauma is not just about going through very stressful, frightening or distressing events. When we talk about trauma, we’re really talking about the impact of those events and what happens to us internally - it’s less about what’s happened and more about how it affects us. Everyone has trauma. But not everyone is traumatised by the same sort of events. 

For babies and young children especially, being ignored or misunderstood can cause deep wounds to our sense of self, our ability to trust ourselves and others and how we experience our emotions. Even something as seemingly inconsequential as not being seen by our carers can overwhelm us, causing feelings of fear, rejection, betrayal, shock, distress and pain. 

Trauma can be broadly classified as "Big T" traumas and "Small t "traumas

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When we’re working with trauma it can be useful to categorise it as ‘big T’ and ‘small t’ traumas. ‘Big T’ trauma is often the type of event we might recognise as being traumatic, eg war, combat, natural disasters, physical or sexual abuse, terrorism and catastrophic accidents. It’s usually this type of experience that leads to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD, the symptoms of which include nightmares, flashbacks and hyper-vigilance. But it’s important to recognise that ‘small t’ trauma events that are highly impactful, but not necessarily life threatening are often the origin of severe emotional problems in both children and adults. Small-t does not mean that the experience was minor or small in its impact. According to Teicher, Samson, Polar, and McGreenery (2006) parental verbal aggression during childhood contributed more to adult psychiatric symptoms -including anxiety, anger-hostility, depression and dissociative symptoms than physical abuse occurring within the family. The combined effect of parental verbal aggression and domestic violence can contribute to  psychiatric symptoms as much as or more than familial sexual and physical abuse. Many childhood life events that were disturbing but not do not met the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD can be equally or more impactful on life than identified PTSD. Emotional disturbance and behaviour problems in the present are often rooted in prior events that were not life threatening, but were very damaging to an individuals sense of self, their relationships and view of the world around them. 

Complex Trauma

Complex trauma is repetitive, prolonged and cumulative, often beginning with those deep attachment wounds from early childhood with additional experiences of abuse or trauma as we grow up. Complex trauma often remains unresolved and, while it may not manifest in the same sorts of symptoms as PTSD, its presence can have a huge impact in many areas of life. 

 

Trauma can also cause dissociation, sometimes described as ‘the ultimate defense mechanism’ as it protects us from our pain. Dissociation can make us feel disconnected or confused. We feel like we’re observing ourselves from the outside, experiencing gaps in our memory or ‘losing time’. It can also cause our behaviour to seem out of character to those around us, as if we have several alter egos. 

 

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The ways in which our trauma presents are unique. Physical and mental illness, diseases of all kinds can all be signs of a traumatised individual. These include the many and varied reasons clients come to therapy eg. relationship difficulties, panic attacks, addictions, eating disorders, self harm, suicidal thoughts etc. It is not about there being some thing wrong with you! Trauma is a result of your life experiences, there is nothing wrong with you and it's important not to feel ashamed. It's not just the severity of the traumatic experiences we face that will determine their impact, but also how much intervention and support we received then and can access now. 

Normal responses to trauma

Normal responses to trauma will vary dramatically on an individual basis. It is subjective and manifests in many different ways, including:

  • Hyper vigilance

  • Sleep difficulties

  • Easily startled

  • Nightmares

  • Insomnia

  • Flashbacks or intrusive memories

  • Obesity

  • Co-dependency in relationships

  • Impulsivity 

  • Anxiety and/or depression

  • Gastrointestinal problems

  • Panic Attacks

  • Numbing/shutting down

  • Decreased concentration/lack of focus

  • Shame and worthlesness

  • Avoidance of people, places or situations that remind you of past traumatic events

  • Addictions (of all, kinds)

  • Self-harm

  • Suicidal thoughts or feelings and/or attempts

  • Auto-immune diseases

  • Eating disorders (bulimia, anorexia, food addiction, binge/restrict cycles)

  • Feelings of helplessness and hjopelessness

  • Lack of boundaries

  • Social problems

  • Dysfunctional adult relationship

  • All types of mental illness

  • Low energy levels

  • Feeling unreal or out of body

Mind Body & Spirit

Healing from trauma is possible. Even if we didn’t receive what we needed at the time of the trauma, our therapy sessions can address this and work towards a deeper understanding of ourselves in mind, body and spirit. Trauma recovery allows us to discover our deepest thoughts, emotions, beliefs, sensations and behaviours. This self-discovery allows us to find meaning and purpose in our lives, grow a sense of personal strength, improve our relationships and feel optimistic about the future. We begin to thrive.

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