Trauma isn’t any particular event in itself, but rather, it is our subjective experience of that event that determines whether or not we’ve been traumatized. Though it sometimes is, it doesn’t have to be a horrifying violent event. If something has happened in your life to make you feel overwhelmingly scared, hurt or unsafe, whatever that event may be, the experience was likely traumatic.
Everyone experiences a range of different reactions after trauma. However, when thoughts, feelings and memories of trauma won’t go away or become worse, and affect how you live, you may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This disorder affects every facet of a person’s life, and makes maintaining healthy relationships, work, and day-to-day tasks excessively difficult.
Trauma can result from any event or series of events that are extraordinarily stressful, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. While these events often involve violence, a threat to life or physical harm, trauma can result from any overwhelming negative experience.
An event can lead to trauma if you felt powerless, or if it happened unexpectedly, you weren’t prepared, it happened repeatedly, or someone was intentionally cruel.
Negative events in childhood are more likely to result in trauma simply because children are more vulnerable, and are still developing their sense of self, security, and understanding of the world. Worse, if childhood trauma is not resolved, the child integrates those deep feelings of fear and helplessness into who they are, how they see the world and how they live within it, increasing the risk of repeated trauma in adulthood.
Trauma can be caused by:
- Single events (accident, assault, injury, natural disaster)
- Ongoing, relentless stress (living in a violent neighbourhood, abuse, life-threatening illness)
- Overlooked causes (surgery, significant breakup, betrayal, humiliation, a deeply distressing experience)
We all react to trauma differently, and it may not necessarily look how you’d expect it to, depending on an individual’s coping style and personality.
PTSD is considered when symptoms of trauma persist for over a month and are severe enough to interfere with functioning in relationships and work. All of the following are typically present:
You don’t need to wait for PTSD to develop in order to work on recovery from your trauma. Avoidance is a very common reaction to a traumatic experience - you may want to do whatever you can to never have to think about it again, pretend it never happened, or that it didn’t affect you or didn’t matter. The truth is, you can’t just will away the effects of trauma. It will persist, and if you try to ignore it, it only gets bigger and digs in deeper.
Everyone is different, and so trauma affects people differently. Likewise, a given style of treatment that works for one person may not for another. Your counsellor will work with you to determine the right approach and plan for you and your situation. It is important, though, to request a counsellor who specializes in trauma specifically, so we can take care to match you with a therapist who has the experience and expertise needed to help you heal.
Some people can get right into it on day one. Most need more time. You don’t need to talk about your trauma right away, and nobody will force you. You just need to show up, let your counsellor get to know you a little bit, and you them. If you’re not ready to look directly at your trauma yet, it’s completely okay. Tell your counsellor you’ve had trauma, but aren’t ready to talk about it yet. It’s very common, and in those cases, we’ll turn our focus to more concrete coping skills and working on the things getting in the way.
Trauma seldom travels to therapy alone. To heal from trauma, we also need to make sure your environment supports that healing, so your life is one you can feel safe and secure within. This includes consideration of other ongoing problems like current threats to your safety or security, social isolation, substance abuse, depression, financial or relationship stress, engaging in self-harm or being suicidal. A well informed and holistic approach is important in treating trauma, so it’s vital that you be as honest as possible with your therapist. We are not here to judge or reprimand you, but to guide, support and empower you in healing from your trauma and taking back your life.
It can be very hard to take the first step to help yourself. But it is so important for you to know that, although it may take time, with treatment, it does get better. Through the whole process, though your counsellor is there to help, you are always in control of your own path in therapy.
You are not alone, and you are worth it.