Everyone suffers from trauma. That is, the “little trauma” of everyday life. The circumstances in which you are born, how you were raised or not raised in your family, the personal ebbs and flows of life, employment, finances, family, friends and self. How you view yourself in the world, how you think others see you as is pretty much universal. The three am insomnia where we replay our ten most toe-curling embarrassing moments. These are the everyday traumas we learn to deal with, live with, or not.
Then there is the other sort of trauma, the “Big Trauma.” A single event PTSD such as rape, car accident, or some sort of life-threatening event in which your senses were overwhelmed. Or complex, multiple event PTSD of an on-going chronic, unremitting nature such as child sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional and psychological abuse. This is where you live your life in a state of chronic hypervigilance, chronic hyperarousal, where your body does not have a chance to get well. This can lead to sleep issues, anger management issues, substance abuse, strings of broken relationships, domestic violence, self-harm and suicide ideation. The world is not a safe place for you, there is danger everywhere. Essentially your body is exhausting and depleting itself but the mind tells you that you have to keep going. It feels like the right path for you, it is congruent with your belief system and you believe it is working for you, and that you cannot change no matter how hard you try. There is no alternative and no way out. Right? No. It doesn’t have to be that way.
Processing trauma and integrating it into your worldview with a trauma informed therapist who know what they are doing can help enormously. Of course, first of all, and this is the hardest part: Recognise your role in your life, not someone else’s contribution to how you formed your world view. Someone else might be responsible for your trauma, but your job is to heal, to make amends to yourself, to be at peace with yourself. Learning how to reframe and control how you think and feel. Standing still long enough to find yourself in all the chaos.
As a therapist, I’ve dealt with my Big Trauma. For the present time. Trauma is processed many times during our life-time, not just once. Childhood issues you thought were dealt with in your twenties, can arise when in your sixties, you see someone on the internet living a very successful “Facebook” life. Only now you have some useful tools, skills and strategies to help you over this hurdle.
Therapy is not just telling your story to a therapist. Therapy is about feeling safe enough to process, reframe and integrate your Trauma into your life story, where the memory can come up but without all the associated hyperarousal and you can distract yourself or do something different in order to feel differently. It involves learning a new path.
People can blame themselves for their Trauma. Therapy helps to understand that this was not within your control at the time, and you did what you had to do (alcohol, drugs, self-harm, binge eating etc) in order to survive. It is not good to pull all your unhealthy coping mechanisms out from under you until some real structures and healing can happen. These unhelpful behaviours served a purpose – they enabled you to survive whatever was happening in your life. They worked back then but are not working now.
Trauma need not be a lifelong experience. Gradually overcoming your hyperarousal and changing your thoughts, feelings and behaviour into a peaceful existence is a life-changing enlightening process.