What is trauma?
Trauma is a distressing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel the full range of emotions and experiences.
So what does this mean?
It means that you don’t have to be a victim of abuse, loss, or a tragic accident to carry trauma. In fact, if you are human, you carry some level of trauma and it manifests in your life in different ways that you may not even be aware of.
My relationship to trauma
In my last post, I shared how childhood trauma affects me today, even though I had a very good childhood, free of events that I ever would have classed as “traumatic.” I had two parents who stayed married through my upbringing, loved me unconditionally (still do), I was kept physically safe from all harm, and any emotional hurt I can recall would be classed as “normal” – some bullying in school, feeling like I didn’t fit in, etc. – stuff that most people go through. The concept of trauma showing up in my life was very foreign for that reason. However, after getting support for the “symptoms” of my behaviour, it became apparent that these were symptoms of trauma. It felt uncomfortable to label it as such in the beginning, but being aware and seeking out methods to cope and heal has been life changing.
Ancestral trauma can be passed down through generations so you can feel the effects of trauma without ever having had a traumatic experience. (However, as humans, there will always be things that upset us and overwhelm our ability to cope, therefore we all carry some level of trauma from our life times as well.)
So, this is all great, but how do we heal?
I want to begin this segment by reminding you that I am not a licensed mental health professional and I encourage you to seek professional help if you are heavily impacted by trauma.
However, I am going to share with you some helpful grounding techniques and resources that I learned from my mentor, Tamar Sasson.
Plant your feet firmly on the floor, put a hand over your heart and tune into your heartbeat. Close your eyes if you can. Take deep, slow breaths in and out. Say out loud (at least 3 times): I am safe in this now moment.
Stimulate your senses to bring yourself back into the present moment. Sound, touch, smell, taste, sight. Play music, hold an ice cube and let it melt in your hand, sniff soothing peppermint or light a candle, eat a mint or let chocolate melt in your mouth (my personal favourite), take a mental inventory of the room around you… The possibilities are endless. I’d recommend thinking of techniques that can ground you and keeping them in a note on your phone so they are always accessible to you when you are having a trauma response.
Check out this video by Irene Lyon, a nervous system expert.
I’m here to debunk the stigma around trauma, and the shame that the people around you may feel when you open up about it. Trauma is subjective and can happen through a variety of experiences, whether intentional or unintentional. You can carry trauma from things that may not be classed as “traumatic” because it is a response from your nervous system that is based on what you are able to cope with at a given time. A trauma response originates from your brain connecting one thing to another, an event to a feeling or vise versa, whether or not that connection is “correct.” Your brain is wired to keep you safe, so it creates these connections automatically to protect you from danger in our primal days of evolution and puts you in fight or flight mode, ready to survive, when you are triggered.
Trauma does not mean that anyone did something to you. It does not mean that your parents failed you. It does not mean that you are broken, unlovable, or any other belief you may have. It is just a nervous system response, plain and simple.
I hope this post serves to remind you that these things are a normal part of the human experience. You are not alone.