Trauma is often defined as being the result of an extraordinary stressful event that threatens your sense of safety and that overwhelms people’s ability to cope, leaving them powerless and vulnerable.My definition of trauma, however, is more wide ranging and includes events of normal life such as bereavement, divorce, illness due to war, rape and childhood abuse. I would also include people whose trauma happens more than once or can be part of their day-to-day experience.Examples of this would be childhood abuse, poverty, living in a war zone, experiencing frequent discrimination, being harassed and being stalked. It is also true that if a person is supporting those who are traumatized, such as people in the emergency services, they can be vulnerable to what is known as secondary trauma.[image url=”https://www.butterflycounselling.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/healing-trauma-promotes-resilience.jpg” raw=”true” alignment=”center” margin_left=”0″ margin_right=”0″ margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”0″ width=”245″ height=”136″]
Trauma and what happens to us?
Part of our psychological make up is that we have an inbuilt survival mechanism called flight, fight or freeze response. It doesn’t matter if the threat is real or imagined, emotional or physical, if there is a real or perceived threat of danger then our survival mechanism gets activated.
Plainly put the fight or flight response is about survival and hope, whereas if the freeze response gets activated, it is perceived that there is no hope. If a person came to attack you would you might fight them, escape as quickly as you could, or freeze because there is no other option. Children often go into a ‘freeze’ response, as they have no way to fight or runaway. It is a version of dissociating from the realization of what is about to happen and as a way to cope.
Because traumatic events are shocking and overwhelming, the mind and body sometimes struggles to process it without help and support. The brain freezes everything connected to the memory using all your senses such as images, thoughts, feelings, body sensations, smells etc. It does this in order to protect you and to try to prevent your nervous system from becoming overwhelmed. Some people will recover after a period of around four weeks and for others the trauma takes a life of it’s own and continues to get triggered, which prevents a person to continue to function as before.
The likelihood is you will be experiencing Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a condition created by exposure to a psychologically distressing event which causes intense fear, terror and powerlessness. The event may have happened recently or it may have happened a long time ago. The good news is that with professional support you can begin to heal from a traumatic event and although the memory is likely to be forgotten the emotional aspects will be.