Do you wonder if you are a victim of trauma? Psychological trauma is a specific type of damage to the mind as a result of a severely distressing event or series of events. Sufferers of trauma may develop extreme anxiety, anger, sadness, relationship issues, sleep problems, or PTSD.
Trauma happens to everyone.
It can be physical, mental, or emotional. Many do not realize they have had a traumatic experience because most believe “a trauma” is only something dramatic or changes their world entirely. But trauma can be big (large “T”) or little (“small “t”). Both of these forms of trauma can impact the way you see yourself and the world.
Large “T” traumas are often obvious and easily identifiable.
They are events that are extraordinary and significant and they leave the person feeling helpless, without control and powerless. Some examples of large “T” traumas are:
- Sexual assaults (rape, incest)
- Car or plane accidents
- Physical abuse
- Domestic violence
- Natural disasters
- Military combat
A large “T” trauma is disturbing enough to cause severe emotional pain and impedes a person’s daily functioning.
Small ‘t’ traumas are not life-threatening but affect your thoughts about yourself.
Some examples of small ‘t’ traumas include:
- Conflict at home or work
- Starting a new job or leaving your current job
- Having or adopting a child
- Financial or legal troubles
- Being rejected
- Someone’s reaction like an eye roll to you wanting or needing something
- Wedding planning (although this may be obvious to those of us who have done it!)
How many of those surprised you? Trauma is in the eye of the beholder.
You may not realize you have experienced trauma.
It’s not uncommon for a client to begin a counseling relationship by saying, “I don’t have any trauma.” But then after some discussion, the client proceeds to say something like, “I watched my dad verbally attack my mom when I was young but he never did it to me so I wasn’t traumatized.” That’s trauma. Another might say, “I was teased relentlessly in the 5th grade. But I got through it.” That’s trauma. A client once told me, “My family was poor and we often didn’t know where dinner was coming from.” That’s trauma. Not recognizing something as trauma may be the result of a narrow view of what trauma really is. The longer the trauma is circumvented, the worse symptoms could become and the longer treatment is avoided.
Traumatic experiences influence our future.
Consider the woman who “watched” her dad be verbally abused by her mother but does not feel like she was traumatized. That experience may shape her perceptions, beliefs, expectations and values in the future. Perhaps she assumes that men aren’t safe. Or she assumes unhealthy relationships are normal. As she grows up, she may find herself avoiding relationships or repeating those patterns and wondering why.
There is some good news. Once you are aware of how the trauma or traumas are impacting your life, you can take the steps to heal.
A few evidenced-based treatments include:
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): This intervention was designed to treat PTSD and has been effective in other disorders as well. The therapist uses bilateral stimulation by tactile, auditory, or visual to help the client process the traumatic memory in a healthier way.
- Exposure therapy: This intervention exposes the client to the memory and triggers in a safe place. The therapist helps the client with any distress that may arise. Exposure therapy and EMDR can help a client become desensitized to the memory.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of therapy focuses on the client’s thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. The goal is to alter a person’s unhelpful thinking to lead to healthy behaviors and improve the client’s emotion regulations.
Jill Johnson, Counseling-intern