Trauma is defined simply as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, but trauma and its effects can be much more complex than we realize, especially when it comes to our mental health.
TRAUMA AND ITS EFFECTS
Many deal with the effects of a wounding or traumatic experience for the rest of their lives, sometimes to a debilitating degree, and often without even realizing how it has been holding them back. This experience can be a single catastrophe like an earthquake, a life-threatening car accident or a sexual assault, or it can result from circumstances like physical or emotional abuse or abandonement. These experiences are differentiated as “big T” and “little t” trauma, where the first is an unquestionably significant experience—the catastrophe, and the latter is one we may not recognize as trauma, which can even be something as small as a fender bender that left us feeling scared and uncertain as a young child. While some may not consider “little t” events traumatic, it all depends on how our minds and bodies respond and cope.
Though a child may not realize they are experiencing neglect, abuse or other wounding, the long-term effects can shape their lives long into adulthood. As children, we are vulnerable, open, precious and valuable. We need protection and guidance, and there are many situations that can impact a child deeply, affecting how they see themselves in the world and leaving them with a void of shame and sadness, without the tools they need to become confident, healthy adults.
We may have one or more parents who are dealing with substance use disorders or mental illness, or who must work so often that we are left at home to fend for ourselves. We may experience a divorce, a death or the incarceration of a loved one and internalize the loss and grief we feel, left to believe we are not good enough. We may even have a sibling with a serious illness, and our parents spend so much time caring for their needs, they are unable to care for our own.
This wounding, even when unintentional, can leave deep, emotional scars that hold us back from becoming our best selves or even coping with everyday life in a healthy way. Perhaps we seek comfort or validation in substances, sex, shopping or other maladaptive behaviors. We may find ourselves with attachment issues, incapable of maintaining happy, healthy relationships with those we love. Trauma can leave us dealing with depression and anxiety long after the experience has ended, and its effects can even cause issues with our physical health.
In fact, it’s common to have a physical response to a triggering event long after an experience has ended. We may be doing our best to cope and move past it, but our body remembers, and our nervous system will often flare up in response to a smell, sound, experience or emotion that triggers our body to react, causing sweating, a racing heart, chills and other fear or stress responses.
TRAUMA THERAPY AND ITS BENEFITS
Luckily, there are many types of therapy that can help heal trauma in all its forms. One model that has shown great success is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and it involves the use of bilateral stimulation (right-to-left eye movement, for instance) to unlock the negative memories and emotions stored in the nervous system, helping the brain process, heal and move forward.
The benefits of trauma therapy are numerous. Through therapy, we can identify, understand and make sense of the experiences that are holding us back. We may downplay or even suppress our experience, perhaps not even realizing it was traumatic, but it’s extremely helpful to gain awareness and understanding of how it connects to our current lives, thoughts and behaviors, and how it has formed our image of ourselves and how we show up in the world. Doing trauma work allows us to reprocess and resolve these experiences and memories, and the resulting feelings, thoughts, beliefs and behaviors we are stuck in. We can re-frame and move forward with a better understanding of ourselves, our past and our place in the world, as well as gain increased self-confidence, improve our ability to regulate emotion, learn healthy coping behaviors and change our lives and relationships for the better. Without our wounding experiences weighing us down, we are able to find peace, joy and overall wellness and become the best version of ourselves.
Our master’s-level clinicians are skilled in providing a safe, compassionate space to identify, reprocess and heal from trauma. If you or a loved one could benefit from their guidance, including determining what type of trauma therapy(ies) may be right for you, please reach out to us confidentially below.