What is trauma? We hear the word bandied about in the mental health community or at 12 step meetings, but what is trauma anyway? Simply put, it’s someone’s subjective experience of a disturbing life event. It overwhelms a person’s ability to cope and leaves them feeling as if they’ll be harmed by someone, or that they’ll loose their mind. You don’t have to have someone validate a traumatic experience for you to know when you’ve been traumatized. Your body and mind start sending you signals telling you something is wrong. Signals that include recurring intrusive memories, bad dreams, feelings of detachment and disconnection, problems falling asleep or staying asleep at night, angry outbursts, headaches, sensitivity to stress, problems concentrating, problems with eating or with alcohol and drugs. In addition to these signals you start getting from your body and mind, you begin to experience difficulties with calming yourself, with soothing yourself, you develop an inability to trust, you loose interest in your life . . . you may even loose hope itself. From where I’m sitting, that’s validation enough that trauma has occurred.
What can make matters even more confusing to the trauma survivor is our society perpetuates old misinformation about what trauma is. It contains a number of misleading beliefs that can barrier you from getting the help you need to move on emotionally to live a fuller richer life.
Here are a number of misconceptions about trauma that our society holds true:
- You cannot recover from a traumatic life event.
- You need to abstain from an addictive substance or behaviour before you can begin to deal with trauma.
- Your body needs to be in danger from someone, or something, in order for the event to be considered a traumatic event.
- You are responsible for the traumatic event(s) that you’ve experienced. It’s your fault.
Do you believe any of these myths about trauma are true? Are any of these myths in the way of you getting the help you may need to heal? For instance, do you believe you cannot recover? Do you believe you will be living in the same frightening state of mind forever? In the relm of psychological healing, our beliefs hold the potential to pave the way to the coveted state of well-being, or on the contrary, keep us locked in a painful and constricted psychological reality. The truth is, you can recover. Many people have done so before you. As long as you are breathing, there is hope. And, depending on your circumstance, the healing process can begin while you are still engaged in an addictive behaviour. You don’t have to stop the addictive behaviour before the trauma work can begin. The two can be looked at at the same time.
Furthermore, trauma is actually a psychological experience of an event where any visual harm to your body may, or may not, have occured. Consider mental and emotional abuse for example. While you cannot see its effects on the body, you sure can feel its effects in your soul. It’s your subjective experience of an event that defines it as a traumatic one, not whether or not there are bruises on your body. And if there are bruises on your body and your gut is telling you you’ve been traumatized . . . you have. You are not responsible for the traumatizing action(s) of another. Ever.
You might want to pause here for a moment and . . . take a big breath in . . . hold it for a moment . . . and e-x-h-a-l-e d-e-e-p-l-y . . . before we move on. Now that a number myths about trauma have been clarified, what’s next?
One option could be to allow yourself to search out the kind of support that would be meaningful to you at this time in your life. This could include finding a competent therapist who is trained in trauma to help you navigate your way across these potentially stormy emotional seas. It could also include finding a skilled Yoga teacher who understands the healing process who would provide you with a safe emotional environment where you could self-explore and resolve long held memories from the past.
The point is, to consider getting the help you need when you need it. You deserve it.