Trauma is often avoided in therapy work and by our own acknowledgement because it is often easy to minimize experienced events from our past. Most of us just want to move forward and live good lives for ourselves and our families! For others, addressing and clearing trauma is desired but not easy as our minds and bodies often find ways to protect ourselves from remembering negative events, whether through deflection or dissociation.
Experienced traumatic events can often have many physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral effects later in adult life including anger, irritability, compulsive behaviors, anxiety, isolation, increased chance of chronic pain, mood swings, sleep problems, negative thoughts towards self, others, and the world, and limited foresight towards a future.
In order to engage in trauma work, individuals receive psychoeducation and learn a set of skills to help them stay present. Then when ready, individuals enter the next phase of easing traumatic memories through processing in therapy sessions. After this work is complete, individuals often experience newfound perspectives of themselves. From here, individuals can then redefine how they want to live their lives, by their own most clear perspectives rather than the trauma responses that ruled before.
Emotional triggers are always an opportunity to see what we’re not looking at.
The research of trauma was elusive and obscure until recently. In fact PTSD was not even a known condition until 1980. In 2015, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk was able to publish his ground-breaking book The Body Keeps the Score. It was the first of its kind, listing extensive research that included brain scans and meta-analysis research supporting the evidence of trauma as a long-lasting effect on not only or our mental health, but our physical health as well. What that means is that there is enough research to verify that trauma is a chronic condition, and until recently, it hasn’t gotten enough attention. We now know that with trauma experiences can come with additional layers of problems that may also include chronic anxiety, depression, panic, physical pain, compulsive behaviors, and sleep concerns. Other symptoms include regular ongoing headaches, difficulty in interpersonal interactions, feeling frequently numb, disconnected, or overwhelmed, reliving traumatic memories, not able to remember certain periods of your life that should be more easily remembered, unexplained fears, difficulty trusting others, and a tendency to not want to remember traumatic occurrences.
The human brain is wired for connection, but the trauma rewires the brain for protection.
What if my trauma doesn’t compare to others? I would suggest you pause, take a breath, and check in with your body. When you think of the memory, what does your body tell you? If you notice a reaction, then what you went through matters.
Trauma comes back as a reaction. Not a memory. — Bessel van der Kolk
So what does that mean if you enter treatment? It means that while working on trauma should be a priority, so should pacing and readiness. Some of us want to work on trauma, but our bodies are not ready to do so and forcing it can create additional problems. I recently had one young girl tell me, “I don’t want to work on my trauma. It’s all I’ve ever been seen for is my trauma.” It was a statement I needed to hear and one I needed to respect. That is why you will be given choices in treatment and your permission to work on trauma will be requested and respected.