The aftereffects of traumatic experiences can color every part of life, from a sense of discomfort, to mistrust, emotional re-activity, pushing others away, numbness, or fearfulness. Often people are busy surviving after traumatic events and months and years may go by before seeking or returning for therapeutic support to address the long-term effects of trauma.
One of the things we talk about in trauma work is “big T trauma” or “little t trauma.” Events that threaten life or physical safety, such as war, rape, domestic abuse or child abuse are called Traumatic events (or big T trauma). Events that are upsetting, leave emotional wounds, and cause a rupture in your life, beliefs, or sense of wholeness are called trauma (or little t trauma). Divorce, a painful breakup, loss of a role model, growing up with an impaired parent . . . the list can go on. However, the common thread is that after the emotionally painful experience you are left changed. Your worldview, beliefs about yourself and others, ways of navigating the world, and sense of comfort and safety are all altered. The pain is intense and the effect can be long-lasting as individuals begin to edit themselves and their lives to fit within smaller, safer worlds. Similarly, “complex” trauma refers to repetitive trauma, and as a reaction it can be hard to trust others, feel safe, and engage with life freely.
Healing from T/traumatic events is a process, or a journey. In the initial stages, reestablishing safety and security are most important. This may involve managing panic attacks, emotional reactivity, or fearfulness so that you can work, spend time with friends, or connect with loved ones. Once a core sense of stability is established, processing the experiences is important. Using Daniel Siegel’s words, you “name it to tame it” and as you talk about it, feel and remember your mind and body can begin to incorporate your experiences differently. This step is critical in moving from being a victim of trauma, to a survivor—one who has been through painful, harrowing experiences and lived to tell of it. As your emotional and physical relationship to the trauma changes, we incorporate grief and compassion work to further the healing process. As we move to the next stage, we further explore the strengths you have gained from surviving your experiences. In this final and last stage, we can begin to make a new meaning and new opportunities for a more enriching, less trapped life.
Therapeutic work is something I truly consider a “hero’s journey.” Many people will avoid discomfort, numbing the pain and loneliness with drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, television, video games, etc. but unfortunately each strategy still leaves a part inside that is unreconciled. Healing and moving forward takes courage, perseverance and most importantly, a willingness to ask for help. If you are looking for a therapist, there is a part of you that is already reaching out. Let’s see if we can navigate this together.
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