Many people tend to think of trauma as resulting from a specific event. In actuality, trauma can be much more elusive to pinpoint. What one person may deem traumatic, another may not – that does not minimize the adverse symptoms one may contend with. Trauma is defined as any event that causes an unusually high level of emotional distress and has a long lasting adverse effect on that person (Briere & Scott, 2015).
For one person that might be exposure to war. For another, it could be the result of chronic childhood bullying.
Trauma is often classified in two categories.
Big T traumas are those big events that one experiences (think: military action, car accidents, sexual and physical assault, and so forth).
Small T traumas result from things like divorce, bullying, job loss, isolation, emotional neglect, intergeneration trauma (see my blog on Epigenetics for a further understanding of this), and other distressful occurrences. Small t traumas do not imply that the emotional impact of an event is insignificant compared to that of a big T trauma; the emotional wound can be as enduring – or more so – than that experienced in a big T trauma – “trauma” is a person’s perception of an experience.
It is never helpful to “compare” or categorize another’s experiences based on those of your own – we are all different, and therefore we experience and process things differently (there is no right or wrong way). Try to be curious with others’ experiences and suspend judgment – this is one of the biggest healing practices we can offer others!
For victims of trauma, memory networks can be disrupted by the amygdala (one’s “threat system” – AKA: “fight/flight/freeze response”), stopping the brain from processing information. The amygdala cannot always discern between real or perceived dangers, causing inaccurate hypervigilance responses for PTSD victims (Briere & Scott, 2015). Because the amygdala is active, access to the hippocampus is impeded, creating the brain to be “stuck” with traumas from the past, while new memories cannot be properly processed (Banich & Compton, 2011).
Victims of trauma cannot merely “get over it” by willing it to go away.
With optimal brain functioning disrupted, it is difficult for a trauma victim to simply cease the maladaptive coping processes (substance misuse, self-harm, et cetera) that are often adapted in an effort to ease discomfort.
“Addiction is neither a choice nor a disease, but originates in a human being’s desperate attempt to solve a problem: the problem of emotional pain, of overwhelming stress, of lost connection, of loss of control, of a deep discomfort with the self.”
Sometimes one’s “trauma” is not easy to identify – instead, one experiences presentations of anxiety, depression, or low self-worth and has little understanding as to what is going on for them.
We cannot change what we don’t acknowledge. We cannot simply “will” our distress away. Believing we need to “suck it up” or “just get over it” does not work, and can actually amplify PTSD symptomology -ugh…☹
If you are suffering, please know there is support available. Taking the first step toward treatment is an act of self-compassion and an investment in YOU (as well as a demonstration of love to those who care about you!).