All This Talk of Trauma…

All this talk of trauma lately….We’ve been hearing it now for two plus years, since the start of the pandemic. It sure seems that in these last couple of years, talk of mental health has become much more mainstream.  With that, I’ve also seen an increase in the use of the word “trauma.”  What used to be a cringe worthy word rarely used in everyday conversations has become much more of a well-known concept. I choose to unpack the concept of trauma through the optimistic (but realistic) lens that ADVERSITY CAN CREATE RESILIENCE!  Being resilient in life is one of the foundational pieces of feeling happy, peaceful and joyous (which most of us are on the hunt for in our day to day).  

I’ve seen in my practice that most people either under-identify or over-identify with the concept of trauma.  Rarely do I meet and work with someone initially who has a very accurate narrative about one’s own trauma. Most of the people I meet with have experienced some type of trauma in their lives. But through rational (and in my opinion non helpful) “get over it” self-talk, they have minimized the impact. Folks who over-identify with trauma (not always consciously) remain stuck or victimized.   Both under-and over doing it with that word, trauma, can prevent growth, health, and restoration.   

In its most bare bones and basic explanation:  trauma is a biological response in our bodies to an external threat that has some level of intensity and or duration. It’s something external that moves our physiology OUT of homeostasis and into a survival response (fight or flight or freeze mode) that is intense and or lasts for a long period.  It’s a disruptive pattern to our biology.  The simplicity ends there.  

Our rational minds can almost work against trauma, as we often try to downplay things that actually seem to be affecting us.  It’s pretty easy to understand that being a soldier in a war field would qualify as “trauma,” or a victim of physical (or any other) abuse would be “trauma,” but it starts to get a little murkier when we consider a child who has been bullied chronically in the lunchroom.  The compassionate side of us may feel sorry for that child, but it may be more difficult to understand that experience as a trauma.But let’s get back to that definition.  A child who has felt a threat from a peer on a daily basis – low grade or not, has had a disruption in their biology.  Depending on all the other disruptions that a child has had to take on in their life, their unique biology may or may NOT be able to bounce back to a regulated state.  THAT is the most important nugget here:  every single person on this planet has had a 100% unique experience. Some of us can bounce back more quickly than others, and some of us cannot.  This is NOT a choice or some skill or pedestal to stand on.  It’s more basic and biological than that.  That’s why it’s so critical that we discontinue comparing our Big T’s (big trauma) and or Little T’s (smaller ones) to others.  We need to learn to study the impact on our own unique systems.   

Perhaps this is redundant, but so important to state – the last few years, with all their intensity, have had lasting traumatic effects for most people.  We’ve been in a higher state of “threat” over these last couple of years, and there is no badge of honor for minimizing that.  Giving that trauma its proper and accurate placement is actually one of the best pieces in growing from it.  

And now the good stuff….Post Traumatic Growth is the concept that, through adversity, we can actually “build back” stronger…through the struggle we can actually create a freshly wired system that leans more towards things like enjoyment, pleasure, and connection.  I assure you this is not some kitschy play on words, but rather a must needed concept if we are to grow from these last few years.  

There is no award for saying we have NOT been traumatized when we have.  Equally, there is no glory in clinging to being traumatized as a way to stay stuck. Post Traumatic Growth is the concept that we can build internally a more flexible and fluid life for ourselves, honoring the past and stretching to a brighter future.

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