Sarah Laing
About Author
July 2, 2024
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What is trauma?

What if I said we have all experienced Trauma?

This is a bold statement but there are misconceptions around the use of the word ‘trauma’- what it means and what society deems to be a ‘trauma.’ When we consider the Greek origins of the word ‘trauma’ meaning ‘wound,’ we may find we can reflect less upon what may or may not be considered to be a trauma and more about what has created wounding in our heart and soul?

This blog looks at The 3 Es of Trauma – The Event, TheExperience and The Effects. My intention is to offer a perspective which is person-centred and focused on the uniqueness of trauma for each individual.

What Qualifies as a Trauma Event?

Bissel van der Kolk(1995), describes trauma as; “An inescapably stressful event that overwhelms people’s existing coping mechanisms”. These ‘stressful events,’ or trauma events can be very obvious and recognisable, such as traffic accidents, a home invasion, a violent or sexual assault… and so many more which we hear about on the news or sadly may have experienced ourselves.But there are many trauma events which are far less obvious or recognisable such as: workplace bullying, emotional abuse, financial strain, loss of a love done, divorce, harassment, redundancy… the list goes on. These events are undeniably stressful but can often be overlooked or forgotten, yet the wounding effect of the trauma persists.

Even less obvious or recognisable are the absence of events which can cause a wounding effect, particularly in childhood - the absence of emotional attunement from a parent, the absence of honest communication, the absence of comfort, security, or consistency. All of these can create deep and impactful wounds and long-lasting trauma effects.

What qualifies as a Traumatic Event is feeling wounded by the event(s) -experiencing the pain, shock, fear, and torment which can impact on any or allaspects of you!

What Does Experiencing Traumatisation Do?

Let’s get down to basics…

Our brain creates our own unique internal map of the world; it registers what our body needs, generates signals, releases energy and initiates actions – all based on what it has learned from past experiences of how to meet our needs. The one need which will always precede all others is our survival, this means that our internal mapcomes with an alarm system to warn us of danger.

Trauma events feed danger information into our brain which it then uses to adapt our map to be sure our survival needs are met – this is the experience of trauma! How we navigate our internal map with this added information depends upon what our map consists of already (resources) and how the information changes it (adaption).

Research suggests if we are active in our own survival then our internal map recognises this and knows how to navigate a threat situation, however if we are unable to escape the threat – if we are trapped, dominated, powerless or without resources, the likelihood of the trauma experience causing a trauma effect is far greater.

So, what does experiencing traumatisation do? It interferes with our internal warning system – it distorts our perception of what is safe and what is dangerous. It changes our internal map so instead of being active in our navigation to a place of safety, we tend to avoid, mistrust, ignore or simply stay in the trauma.

What are the Effects of Trauma?

Trauma effects are wide and varied, and if you have chosen to read this blog, you may recognise issues with anxiety, depression, substance abuse, guilt, disordered eating, panic attacks, angry outbursts or isolation…sound familiar - what if I said we have all experienced trauma…do you believe me now?

One of the lesser recognised effects of trauma is shame. Shame is the underlying and hidden effect of trauma that you can hear when you ask yourself:

“Why can’t I be normal like everyone else?”

“What’s wrong with me?”

“Why do I find things so difficult to manage?”

“Why can’t I just move on?”

It might sound like a strange thing to say, but shame can become an efficient way to navigate your internal map if there is a warning signal of danger, particularly if the source of your trauma involves other people. If there is a greater need for protection from experiencing the trauma of rejection, abandonment, powerlessness, or conflict than there is for experiencing love, care, comfort, or respect, then shame will be that protection. Shame distances us from the threat of people by thinking we are not good enough or not worthy of their love or support…shame can be safe!

The effects of trauma are our wounds - physical, emotional, psychological, relational, and societal injuries that impact negatively upon our lives.

Feeling stressed all the time can link to traumatisation, feeling anxious or depressed can be an expression of trauma - feeling you have no control over your own life, the constant worry of what is going on in your head…all have a relationship with trauma! These effects of trauma have a purpose, it is your brain’s way of keeping you safe from the intolerable feelings created by experiencing trauma events.

Conclusion

So, what is trauma?

We can think about trauma as being more than an event that society deems as being a trauma – we can look at trauma from a ‘whole world’ perspective - our unique and individual ‘whole world’ perspective.

The 3 Es of Trauma: Event, Experience and Effects.

Trauma events, whether obvious or hidden, don’t need a category or an explanation, it needs acknowledgement, but most importantly it needs acknowledgement by the person who experienced the trauma and is living with the daily effects of trauma.

Experiencing trauma changes our internal world map and how we navigate our needs. This doesn’t mean there is something ‘wrong’ with us, quite the opposite; it’s our brain doing an efficient job of keeping us alive and safe from harm.

Trauma effects are our wounds, this is where we can heal, learn, and grow. However, trauma wounds are painful, and our internal world maps want to navigate us away from pain. But when we find the courage to acknowledge our trauma on our own terms to reach out and find support, to find strength in our own empowerment and resources, we can transform our internal map, make decisions that serve our needs and choose how we navigate our own lives.

If you would like some support to find your own path, please contact MAC Counselling & Wellbeing on: info@maccounselling.ukor visit our website: https://www.maccounselling.uk/

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