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"Does That Count As Trauma?"

As more and more attention is getting brought to mental health, the word "trauma" has been thrown around quite a bit lately.  There can be a lot of confusion on what exactly trauma it, how it impacts us, and how to best heal from it which is why I wanted to take a bit of time to hopefully provide some answers to those questions.  One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to trauma is that trauma only applies to a certain set of events or experiences.  Many people think of experiences such as serving in a war, sexual assault, car accidents, death of a loved one, etc.  While there is no doubt those experiences can have a profound negative impact on those who are a part of it, the type of experience is not what actually deems something as traumatic or not.  What we look at when deciding if someone experienced trauma isn't so much about the details of what happened but more so about the impact and negative affect it had on that person. Trauma can apply to any situation in which we felt unprepared, violated, or out of control.  Trauma can be anything we experience that is less than nurturing and impacts our view of ourselves, others, and the world around us.
I appreciate this definition not only because it takes into account the subjective quality of trauma but also because it validates rather than minimizes the impact of one's experiences.  That minimization is something I see pretty often with my clients and I have definitely been there as well.  Minimization of our experiences looks like telling ourselves: “Others have it worse than me” “I should get over this” “I’m just too sensitive, I shouldn’t be bothered by this anymore” Often times we feel like if we minimize the impact of something then we don't have to deal with it.  We hope that maybe then it will just go away.  Here's the thing though: Telling ourselves these things doesn’t change the past or how we feel. It just adds more difficultly to the situation because now we’re also dealing with self-criticism and shame on top of the negative impacts of our unprocessed trauma. This is why the first step requires us to be radically honest and accepting of what we have been through.  This can take some time as parts of us may still try and minimize or discount what we have been through.  This is completely normal being that when we are in the midst of trauma, our brain can't typically focus on the severity of the situation and how it has impacted us.  It's main focus instead is to help us survive and when we're in survival mode the emotional part of us has to take a backseat. If you notice that those parts of you that tend to deny, minimize, or try and distract from your feelings are still coming up as you start this reflection process, the best thing to do is to acknowledge them, express your appreciation and gratitude for them, and then figure out what they need from you to feel safe in letting you continue on with this reflection process.
This process can take quite a bit of time and energy.  It can feel very overwhelming to go through this honest inquiry and reflection of how trauma has affected us, especially if our default is to not feel our feelings.  Go slow.  Take as much time and care as you need during this process and remember to have self-compassion rather than self-criticism if you can.
The next step involves us learning more about how trauma can affect all aspects of our mind, body, and soul.  This is what we'll look at in the next blog post.