With all of this newfound access to information about mental health, it can be pretty easy to get overwhelmed, especially when it comes to trauma.
But what actually is trauma?
And how do we know we have trauma symptoms?
Let me help you with that!
So what is trauma?
Well, according to Dr. Bessel van Der Kolk, one of the leading researchers of trauma and the author of The Body Keeps the Score, trauma is defined as: "not the story of something that happened back then, but the current imprint of that pain, horror, and fear living inside [the individual]."
Ok, so what the heck does this mean?
Think of your body and mind as a car.
Just like every car, our car can only go so fast.
When our speedometer starts to get in the red, things can go wrong, right?
Maybe our car overheats, or it starts to shake?
Really, the car is only built to handle so much.
This is the same with humans.
Trauma is the experience of an event that overwhelms our capacity to cope.
It puts us in the red zone.
Some examples of traumatic experiences include:
It is important to note that the event itself is not what causes trauma, it is our mind and body's response to the event that does so.
That means an event that is traumatic for an individual may not be for another and vice versa.
Don't judge yourself
So when we get into the red, what actually happens?
Well, there are 4 different types of trauma/survival responses.
Maybe you've heard of the first two:
Fight-In response to a threat, our body determines it can fight back and prepares itself.
This may mean our body gets tense, our heart starts to beat faster, and we zone in on the threat.
Flight- With this response, our body decides we cannot fight the threat and that, instead, fleeing gives us a better chance of survival (I.e. picture a gazelle running away from a predator).
Our body may start to feel restless, we may start to look around for exits, and again our heart starts to beat fast.
These next two are lesser-known, but equally as important, survival responses:
Freeze- Our body determines that fighting and fleeing are not viable options.
With this response, our body can literally freeze.
We may feel like we are stuck in place, or maybe we feel like we leave our bodies altogether.
Our thoughts can start to get fuzzy and we may start to feel numbness throughout our bodies.
Fawn- Another way to think of fawning is "going with the flow".
Your body may determine that "not causing a scene" is the best way to survive.
This can look like going along with what an abuser says or does or even partaking in the abuse of others as a way to avoid abuse towards yourself.
This response is more common for people who have experienced multiple traumas.
With all of these trauma/survival responses, it is important to remember that WE DO NOT GET TO CHOOSE HOW OUR BODY RESPONDS.
Our body unconsciously determines which has the best chance for survival and goes with that.
O.K., so this is how we respond at the moment but what actually makes us traumatized?
Well, we experience trauma symptoms when our mind and body get stuck in a survival response.
In other words, our body has incorrectly determined that we are not yet safe again and therefore keeps us on high alert.
That means that we are constantly perceiving things as a threat, even if they may not be…and when we do, we go right back to one of those 4 responses.
Some examples of trauma symptoms are:
-hypervigilance (I.e. constantly scanning the environment for a threat)
-dissociation (I.e. feeling numb or disconnected from the body)
-avoidance or isolation (I.e. staying away from people, places, or things that remind you of the event)
-Intrusive thoughts/images (I.e. feeling like you're back in the event and/or night terrors of the event)
-Chronic tension/pain in the body
This is by no means an exhaustive list of trauma symptoms. In fact, if you would like to learn more click here.
Trauma symptoms are a normal response to an abnormal situation.
In other words, our body is doing what it needs to survive something really scary.
It's natural to fear driving a car shortly after you get into an accident.
It makes sense that you would change your locks and add security cameras after your home is broken into.
For some, these symptoms naturally dissipate over time.
Eventually, you don't check your cameras every night or you're able to start driving again.
For others, these symptoms remain or even get worse.
Perhaps, you notice that you're unable to sleep when you are home alone or you begin to avoid getting into a car altogether.
When our trauma symptoms are affecting our daily functioning, it may be time to seek help.
Other Indicators It's Time to Get Help:
-you've stopped talking to your friends and family
-you avoid leaving your home
-it's hard to focus at work or on daily chores
-you experience chronic pain/headaches
-you sleep way more or way less than usual
Unfortunately, we will all likely experience some form of trauma throughout our lives.
For some, time may be enough to heal from these experiences. For others, we may need more support.
If it feels like your trauma symptoms are controlling you and not the other way around, reach out to a counselor.
You can feel better and heal!
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