What Is Trauma?
The word ‘trauma’ comes from Greek and means ‘wound’. Right away this enlightens to the nature of trauma. When people come to seek help related to traumatic events, they are often talking about deep wound(s) that have not healed and require attention because of the long term effects.
The Main Types Of Trauma
There are various types of trauma, the mains ones are:
- Acute Trauma: when we are impacted by a single traumatic incident (for example, a road traffic collision).
- Chronic Trauma: when we are repeatedly exposed to a traumatic situation over a prolonged period (for example, abuse, like domestic violence)
- Complex Trauma: when we experience a variety of traumatic events in life (for example, bullying, the end of a relationship, illness, and losing your job).
What Happens When Trauma Is Ignored Or Forgotten
Traumatic memories should not be underestimated and ignored or forgotten. Think about it this way, if you had a flesh wound and left it unattended, and tried to forget about it, what do you think might happen? It’s likely you would experience infection, pain, and possibly amputation, or death. It’s no different when it comes to emotional and psychological trauma.
“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
― Sigmund Freud
Why We Forget Trauma
Our brains are clever. Their job is to keep us safe. This means in their (sometimes short-sighted) wisdom, our brains will do things like putting away our pain without our conscious knowledge. This is to offer us a sense of safety but it means that thoughts and memories relating to an experienced traumatic event are repressed and actually forgotten.
The Cost Of Forgetting Trauma
Think of it as the basement in a house, any stressful events that we can’t deal with, anything that is inconvenient, anything we don’t want to look at, or that might cause harm in the here-and-now, all of it goes into the basement. This is what happens with repressed trauma.
The reason I call it short-sighted is not because it’s wrong. In fact, oftentimes, it’s likely the thing that helps us function, and get on in life, and survive, so the brain has succeeded in its mission. But it’s short-sighted because it’s a temporary fix and not a useful long-term strategy. Why? Because in the longer term it harms us.
How Repressed Trauma Harms The Body
Freud and Breuer talk about the pathogenic nature of traumatic memories. The idea being that these psychic agents (the memories) can directly impact physiological bodily processes and create disease. There is much research to support psychosomatic impact, both in an acute way (for example, the physiological anxiety response), as well as the long term effects to physical health. Yes, it’s the mind-body connection.
Essentially, just because we put traumatic events in the basement, doesn’t mean they disappear. Actually, they continue to exist and grow, taking up space and influencing the environment around them. So our traumatic wounds deepen and impact us in harmful ways.
How Repressed Trauma Harms Mental Health
And because memories are repressed unconsciously, that is, without our knowledge and awareness, alongside the impact to physical health, there is the affect to mental health. We relate to ourselves, others, and the world in ways that are deficient and unsatisfactory. For example, creating defence mechanisms, that are sub-optimal. And these can facilitate mental health issues, like anxiety, or low-mood, post traumatic stress disorder, and other conditions. Indeed, people who suffer with schizophrenia have usually experienced developmental trauma.
How Repressed Trauma Harms Behaviour
And of course, this means our behaviour is impacted. Often people will have vices, they may use drugs like alcohol to cope with life. Or perhaps develop a behavioural ‘addiction‘ like shopping, travelling, gaming, porn, whatever it is, to distract and cope. These things impact relationships. And relationships are the bedrock for all social species, so if these suffer, we suffer.
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”
― Carl Gustav Jung
This idea from Jung, posits that when we do not work with the traumatic experiences buried in our unconscious, they remain out of awareness, and have far reaching influence over our lives. We think, feel, and act in ways that are almost deterministic, they are influenced by a part of us we are not privy to, and we think it fate.
How Therapy Can Help
But, through therapy, we might bring out into the light, the things repressed. Then, we create choice and agency. We can decide if we wish to live and be how we are, or if perhaps, our current ways are no longer serving us.
This of course, is easier said than done. Dealing with trauma means facing it. It means we have to go to the parts of ourselves that our brain decided we were not strong enough to face, because they were so damaging to us. But that was then. This is now.
And therapy means you don’t have to do it on your own. Find yourself a therapist you can trust, someone you feel is up to the task, and you will have a companion on the difficult road ahead. Because therapy is not easy, it’s not fun. It’s work, effort, energy, and time. More than this, it’s courageous.
Trauma Informed Care
Rather than be controlled and ruled by a traumatic situation, you can bravely face it, with your chosen therapist, one who is able to offer trauma informed care. Your therapist will help you manage the releasing of the event, feel safe enough to do so, and be held and contained. This means you will experience your initial emotional response to the situation, but learn that actually, you are strong enough to do this.
What Processing Trauma Does
This processing of the trauma does not mean it magically goes away. What it means is rather than hiding from this mysterious and frightening ‘thing’ and experiencing trauma symptoms which can develop into post-traumatic stress disorder, and complex PTSD, or other conditions that control you and affect your life in ways you’re not even aware of…
…You can face it. You can see it. You can learn about what it’s still doing to you. You can choose how you now want to relate to it. You can take control. You can be free of its covert control. You can relate to it differently. You can feel the resilience and strength in you grow. You can take control of your life in ways you couldn’t before and put an end to its reign.
Take The Red Pill And Be Free
The trauma and pain you have suffered is valid, and your suffering of it should be honoured. Through the responsible release and processing of the difficulties you have endured in life, you can find release. By facing your trauma in this way, you are choosing already. And it’s just the beginning of a new way to live and be.
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