Trauma is hard to look at for most of us. In fact, many of us didn’t know we even had it. It’s something we went through and that we’d rather not acknowledge or remember, that we easily minimize as no big deal, or that we obsess about and can’t seem to avoid thinking of it despite how hard we try not to remember it. We can have an awareness that it happened but no specific memory of it or we can become flooded with emotions whenever we’re reminded of it. It’s as vague and specific as it makes itself out to be. Sometimes there’s an in-between and sometimes there’s opposite ends of the spectrum. Sometimes we can talk about what we’ve been through to our friends and family without awareness of its effects, only to see their reactions and realize that what we went through is more than we realized.
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.