Trauma tends to feel like a buzzword these days. All humans seem to have it, which begs the question: is living traumatic?
So, what is Trauma?
There are many definitions. A basic definition of Trauma shows something to the effect of “a distressing or disturbing event”. The American Psychological Association explains trauma as the “emotional response to a terrible event” and then proceeds to provide examples like a car accident or natural disaster.
I view trauma as the moment(s) in our lives which slow down such that, upon reflection, we see a Before and an After. The person we understand ourselves to be separates into the Before, the person who did not know such traumatic event(s) could happen, and the After, the person who now lives in a world where those event(s) are possible and personal. Trauma can be a singular occurrence, like a sexual assault, or it can be complex, like the experience of living in poverty as a child.
Trauma creates a grieving process. We navigate stages of grief including anger, bargaining, and acceptance. Trauma also creates maladaptive coping mechanisms. We will experience Parts of us that needs to create some semblance of control, our firefighter or manager. These Parts might reach for substances like alcohol or marijuana to numb our experience of anxiety. They might encourage we withdrawal socially because we feel disconnected from others. Some Parts of us might become compulsive in our need for structure or self-harm to create a sense of control. Other Parts might become suicidal and scared.
Sometimes we have the words to describe these experiences. Other times we have panic attacks without understanding why. Or maybe we wake up to realize we dissociated the afternoon away without making a memory of what we were watching or reading. We respond to trauma in a diverse set of ways, often with our bodies tracking for us exactly what happened without our knowing.
We know the splitting of self, the Before and the After, is the result of our brain’s inability to process the Trauma cohesively in an integrated way. Some of us remember every microsecond of the trauma with cognitive precision. Our left brain did not go offline during the event. It stayed there, verbally creating a narrative we can discuss with others. Some of us cannot remember with narrative clarity what happened, but know the experience of fight, flight, fawn, or freeze taking place in our bodies without our permission. This is because our right brain, our emotional processor and house for nervous system activation, created a memory for us. Our bodies and our brains are keeping the score.
Trauma therapy techniques are varied and research in this area is growing faster than I author this article. More and more, psychology is integrating the experience of mind and body into the work of healing trauma. The clue to understanding our experience of trauma is held in our bodies. With the left and right brain housing different data points of the traumatic event(s), therapy needs to focus on connecting the two, on bridging the split.
I utilize a mixture of Internal Family Systems (IFS), Emotion Focused Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and mapping somatic experience to help clients create the tools for doing this work. I seek to empower clients to learn about their somatic experience so that we can begin isolating where the trauma is living in their bodies and healing that pain through targeted processing of the events. This work takes time and moves slowly. It meets the client where they are in their experience of Self. It is formulaic in that I learn how to follow the client through their experience and lead them toward seeing it in a new and empowering way, but entirely client driven. Trauma work seeks to restore agency to the client experience so the narrative cannot create more harm than already caused. I, as the therapist, function as a guide with the client driving the car.
Have questions? Please reach out to me! I would love to discuss how my work might align with your goals for healing what is complex for our minds and bodies to navigate without a little help.