Expanding our Understanding of Trauma

When we hear the word TRAUMA we often think of a main traumatic incident such as violence, severe injury or loss of a loved one. But the truth is, trauma is not defined by the event, it is defined by our response to that event.

Trauma is More than the Event Itself

Trauma is the neurobiological response to an experience that happened to us or didn’t happen to us. This experience, or non-experience, can be something physical, emotional, relational or cultural. If it dysregulates the nervous system and stops us from feeling safe and whole within ourselves – it can be considered trauma.

When my therapist first told me, “You are a trauma survivor.” I was shocked. I never considered myself a trauma survivor – ever. I had a mother who loved me dearly, I didn’t remember a catastrophic event that had happened to me – I was normal! And yet, here I was in therapy suffering from anxiety, wild mood swings and a belief system that told me the world was a dangerous place and people could not be trusted.

Understanding how my neurobiology had been affected by the lack of secure attachment in early childhood helped me rewire my brain for safety. It also helped me dissolve the shame I felt about how I was experiencing life. I was ashamed that I felt so unsafe in the world, I was ashamed that I had wild mood swings, I was ashamed that I felt broken, and I was ashamed that I struggled to meaningfully connect with others. I didn’t want to feel this way and I often beat myself up for these responses. Understanding that these were all trauma responses helped me on my path towards healing and wholeness.

Symptoms of Trauma

What are signs that your nervous system has experienced what it considers to be trauma, even if you do not recall a traumatic event:

  • You have gaps in your memory (when your system is overwhelmed it cannot process and store memories in the usual way. You may remember a distinct smell or feeling but have zero recollection of the event itself)
  • You may feel easily angered
  • You experience persistent feelings of sadness and despair
  • You have recurring nightmares
  • You have unpredictable emotions or experience mood swings
  • You carry with you a sense of guilt – about everything!
  • You may experience physical symptoms such as nausea, headaches, IBS
  • A persistent feeling of disconnection or isolation

We Can Heal from Trauma

The path to healing is never a linear one but it is possible to heal from emotional, physical and psychological trauma. Just as traumatic experiences can forge neural pathways so can positive and constructive therapeutic experiences. We can harness this phenomenon – called neuroplasticity – to build new and better neural pathways that can support post traumatic growth.

Did you recognise any of the symptoms of trauma? I help clients release stored trauma through TRE, compassionate counselling and mindfulness. To book a free 20 minute consultation please email me at info@intentionalhealing.co.za