Trauma is a topic that captivates me. Over the last four years I have devoted my time and energy to understanding and unraveling the mysteries of trauma. After nearly a decade of work with individuals who were not improving or were continuing in self-harming behaviors, it became apparent that if the core issues of trauma were not addressed, individuals would continue in their maladaptive ways of coping.
Unprocessed trauma can have lingering effects on the mind and body. It may surface as anxiety, depression, feelings of anger or betrayal, mistrust, sleep disturbances or in a variety of physical symptoms including fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, headaches, endocrine problems, thyroid dysfunction, irritable bowel syndrome and neck and back problems to name a few.
These symptoms can live on for days, months or even years after the experience.
Trauma is anything that we perceive as a threat to our safety and well-being. It is a life event that has created a negative response in our mind, body, and spirit. Trauma wears many different faces: It may be physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; serving in the military; being in a relationship with an addict; the death of a loved one; divorce; the absence of a close, bonded relationship with a primary caregiver; a natural disaster; surgery; mental or chronic physical illness; frequent moves as a child; and, the list goes on. For each individual, trauma looks different.
When trauma happens, it is stored in a part of the brain that is unable to put words and feelings with the experience and make sense of it. Because this happens, many people have difficulty identifying how they think and feel about the experience. Unable to verbalize the experience, hiding it or ignoring the trauma creates a vessel of pain that eventually erupts. This pain feels overwhelming. Individuals know that they do not like the way they feel and they will do anything to stop that feeling.
When individuals do not share or receive support, they will take actions to self-medicate and manage the emotional pain. They will seek a substance, a person, or an activity that will bring quick and reliable relief. Some individuals turn to alcohol, sex, spending, drugs, relationships, eating or restricting, pornography, gambling, dissociating (going to another place psychically) or video gaming to name a few. Initially, the pain goes away and a sense of relief and equilibrium is restored. Unfortunately, the brain and the body soon become addicted to this new action thus creating a new source of pain.
How does the roller coaster stop? How does a person know if trauma is the reason they feel the way they feel or act the way they act? If you are asking these questions, you probably already have a good idea that unresolved trauma may be the missing piece in your puzzle.
In trauma therapy, it is essential to gain control over the residues of past trauma. In order to accomplish this, trauma therapy must utilize tools for identifying, understanding and treating the effects of trauma on both the mind and body as trauma can never be fully healed until we understand how the body is affected by trauma. When trauma is treated thoroughly, healing can lead not only to symptom reduction, but long-term transformation. Trauma resolved is a gift that only we can give ourselves.
Originally published in Healthy Cells Magazine, April 2015
By Tonya L. Bassett LCSW, CADC, CTT