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A more realistic definition of trauma

What exactly is ‘trauma’?

Most of us believe it is a word that applies to experiences and resulting symptoms arising from human experiences that are rare and extreme. Examples include soldiers witnessing death and destruction on a battlefield, victims of serious motor vehicle accidents, and those caught in the middle of life-threatening natural disasters.

These experiences all share the feature that life is threatened for oneself or others in some way and increase the chance that an individual will be adversely mentally and emotionally affected in a medium to long-term fashion. This includes experiencing intrusive past memories and nightmares, feeling constantly on edge, avoiding reminders of negative past events, and withdrawing from the world in general.

In recent years psychology and psychiatry have acknowledged that life-threatening events are not the only path to developing the aforementioned symptoms. Terms like ‘complex trauma’ or ‘complex PTSD’ (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) now refer to the development of trauma-related symptoms as a result of an accumulation of stressful experiences that have a compounding effect over time.

One way of looking at this is that the subconscious mind struggles to ‘let go of’ or ‘file away’ significant disempowering events regardless of whether they are life-threatening or not. For example, a parent who endures ongoing verbal abuse and severe tantrums from their behaviourally challenged child could end up with the same type of symptoms as an individual who experiences a car accident.

These trauma symptoms could come in the form of being highly irritable, being quick to anger, freezing up when there is conflict, hypervigilance, difficulty sleeping, and extreme feelings of guilt and shame. Similarly, a child who has had issues bonding with their primary caregivers in early life due to unforeseen or uncontrollable circumstances (e.g. mother taken away for an extended period due to illness), can also effectively be traumatised and exhibit behavioural symptoms that could mirror a condition like Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

The vast majority of individuals will have more than one series of disempowering events across their lifetime. Using the first example above, a parent may have also had challenges in childhood with a parent not being loving, overly critical, or emotionally absent. On top of this, we may have had periods of bullying at school or work, betrayals or heartbreaks in relationships, chronic health issues, and grief.

All of these situations piggyback on top of each other just like a balloon slowly filling with toxic air over time. At some point, the accumulation of disempowered emotion gets to a point where symptoms emerge and we feel less resilient in our ways of coping with stressful situations.

If any of the above resonates with you, maybe your balloon is fuller than you realised and it’s time to release that baggage from your subconscious. Psychological Therapy with Lifeskool provides a means to quickly and effectively release the pressure inside and move in the direction of the best, thriving version of you.