It’s interesting how we define Trauma. This week Oprah raised awareness about early childhood trauma & it’s lifelong effects in her 60 minutes episode. I see this in my own work and the impact it can have on how we function as ‘adults’ in our lives. It can be debilitating for many.
But at the same time I often hear from people dismissing what they go through in life as not that traumatic. It’s almost as if we compare the levels of what is considered trauma. I remember when doing my own healing work around my grandmother’s murder that when the word ‘trauma’ was used to explain what I had experienced I dismissed that as I thought to myself “ hey, I was functioning okay, I got up everyday and went to work etc’ .
Trauma doesn’t have to be a near fatal incident. My dictionary defines trauma as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Defined like that the events which can be considered traumatic are wide ranging indeed – from what might be considered the stuff of ordinary life such as divorce, illness, accidents and bereavement to extreme experiences of war, abuse, rape and genocide.
If you’ve been viewing the world one way, then something stressful happened to you that now causes you to view the world differently…that’s trauma. Stressful events can create a certain level of shock on the mind and body. If not addressed they develop into dysfunctional patterns that can impact your behavior in everyday life.
Shock to our minds, bodies and souls
Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma and others contend that emotional trauma goes unhealed when the natural trauma response is interrupted and feelings unleashed by the event remain unresolved. Because of this, anxiety, anger, depression, guilt, hopelessness, self-blame, shame and other feelings freeze up inside of us. That “freeze” is not just emotional, but physical as well. Recent research indicates that parts of the brain become altered by traumatic events. These disruptions are actually visible on brain scans.
Just what is a natural trauma response? It’s the whole continuum of emotional and physical sensations that occur with the first inclination that something is wrong or dangerous. To understand it, Levine suggests looking at how animals respond to danger, real or perceived. After the animal has instinctively chosen to fight, flee or freeze, and the danger has passed, the animal trembles throughout its entire body, “shedding” the tension required for alertness and quick response.
Human response to danger—real or perceived—can also involve shaking, sweating, crying, laughing or shuddering. Just like the animal, such responses are natural and part of the body’s effort to return to a state of equilibrium. They are crucial to the recovery process, and they may go on for hours, days or weeks. Too often, however, we deny this process or don’t give it its due. We say to ourselves or hear from others, Pull yourself together. Forget about it. Get up and shake it off. It’s time to get on with your life.