Believe it or not, we all have trauma. Many people think that only major events like war or a car accident are considered trauma, but even small things can have long-term consequences on our lives.
Below, Frame Therapist Nick Berry shares on trauma and how to recognize events in your own life that may have had a lasting effect on your mental health.
To start, let’s define trauma.
Trauma is anything that happens that challenges someone's ability to cope and get through that moment that causes distress.
When people hear the word “trauma”, it brings up a lot of mixed feelings and can be very scary for some. When people find out that they might have experienced trauma, whether it’s through conversations with their therapist, or friends, we see a lot of mixed emotions.
Some people understand what trauma is, and they understand where it comes from. Others do not.
Traditionally trauma has been viewed as major disasters, financial crisis, abuse (sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse), being in really toxic relationships, car accidents, or experiencing someone dying.
There are other forms of being traumatized, for example emotional trauma. We sometimes split these events into “Big T” / “Little T” trauma.
“Big T” traumas are the major disasters, accidents, abuse; things that are very identifiable as “that was traumatic for me”. “Little T’ traumas present as experiencing things that others might not view as traumatic. So maybe observing a parent strike your sibling, or your teacher making fun of you in a class in middle school, those might be traumatic emotional experiences for you.
How you know that you have experienced trauma is when you start experiencing a lot of anxiety or depression, either when you're introduced to things that remind you of that trauma, or maybe out of nowhere, 20 years later in your adulthood, you're starting to notice a lot of anxiety and depression and you begin to notice that your life is being disrupted because of things that are coming up for you.
A question asked on this topic - If we all experienced traumas in life, why do only some people develop PTSD?
PTSD is a diagnosis given to somebody that is experiencing specific symptoms as a result of trauma. Examples could be being hyper-vigilant and checking your surroundings at all times, jumping at the sound of a door closing, or suffering extreme anxiety as a response to something.
Some people don't necessarily experience those symptoms because they have some sort of inner kind of coping strategy, or coping ability to get through those situations. Others might not be able to.
Some people have never been exposed to things that would require them to have to use those coping skills. So another example that might also help to narrow this down a little for people is when someone experiences life a certain way, their entire life, and all of a sudden they go into a new situation or a new environment surrounded by new people and that life is completely different, and they hear friends telling them things like, “Oh, sounds like your parents neglected you when you were little...this is actually how a parent should do things”.
Or you let’s say you came from an environment where violence, gun shootings, car accidents happened all the time and you just thought that that was a safe environment. And now you're being told that that's not. For some people, the distress of finding out that what they knew as a child or a teenager or early on in their life was not how it was supposed to be, that they weren't really safe, can create a lot of increased anxiety. Some people can experience PTSD from that; this would be more of a delayed onset of PTSD.
For additional conversations and resources on this topic, browse our Discussion library on Trauma. You will find discussions on Healing from Intergenerational Trauma, Understanding The Impacts of Racial Trauma, as well as The Power of Integrated Healing.
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