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Trauma...What Does it Mean?

Trauma is often misunderstood, minimized, and masked by physical and emotional symptoms.  Over the next three weeks, we will take a deeper look at trauma.  Specifically, we will look at the difference between negative and traumatic memories, how trauma affects adults, and what trauma recovery therapy looks like. When you hear the word trauma what comes to mind?  For many it may be abuse, death, mass shootings, natural disasters, or war.  There is typically a general agreement that these events and experiences are traumatic. However, many other events that individuals experience during childhood could be considered traumatic.  As we will discuss in this post, the details of an event or experience are not the only criteria that are taken into consideration when deciding if it was traumatic. WHAT IS TRAUMA? Throughout childhood, humans are subjected to a variety of positive, negative, and traumatic experiences. When individuals reflect on those positive childhood experiences, they describe them with ease. Those descriptions will contain a beginning, middle, and end while also deciphering that they occurred in the past. Negative experiences on the other hand may cause some distress during childhood but the child appears to only be affected by them for a short period of time. The child eventually returns to an optimal level of functioning. As an adult, the individual can recognize that the negative experiences are past events. All traumatic experiences are negative but not all negative experiences are traumatic. The details and facts of the childhood experience do not automatically dictate whether it was traumatic or not. Instead, the answer lies in how the individual interpreted the experience as a child and how the adult is currently functioning. Trauma can apply to any situation in which we felt unprepared, violated, or out of control. Traumatic experiences cause significant distress and continue to affect the individual throughout adulthood. Individuals are unable to articulate the traumatic memory in a concise fashion. The memory no longer has a beginning, middle, and end but rather may appear fragmented and come in the form of sounds, figures, or sensations. The individual is often unable to recall all parts of the traumatic experience. When asked to describe those traumatic memories, individuals may feel as if they are having the experience in this very moment. They cannot differentiate that this is something that occurred in the past because certain brain processes are not allowing them to do so. Stay tuned for our next weeks post in which we will dive deeper into how adults are affected by unresolved childhood trauma!