What is Trauma?
Trauma isn’t simply about being upset by something . It can evoke intense emotions and cause deep distress, but that’s not what marks something out as being traumatic or not. Real trauma is what happens inside of us as a result of what happened to us. Trauma is our response to the event, rather than the event itself.
Trauma is the adaptations our bodies and brains make to survive dangerous situations. When we feel threatened, our biology shifts its focus from the tasks that keep us healthy, happy and thriving to a state of survival. These changes are automatic, they are out of our conscious awareness. The purpose of these adaptations is to try to keep us alive in the moment.
Common symptoms of trauma include:
- Avoid - always first line of defence
- Hypervigilance - on the lookout for signs of danger
- Re-experiencing – flashbacks reminding us of danger
- Hyperarousal – ready to run to safety
These visible symptoms of trauma make complete sense - they are attempts to survive, predict and avoid danger. We’re not weak, ‘scaredy cats’, bone idle or mentally ill..... it's a sign our bodies are working are working as they should and doing everything right !
What causes Trauma?
Trauma is caused by a whole spectrum of experiences that can adversely affect us:
- Shock Trauma includes experiences e.g. as accidents, assaults, natural disasters
- Developmental/Relational trauma e.g abuse, neglect, chronic adversity, lack of safety growing up
- Other e.g. chronic stress, adverse social environments, medical procedures, domestic abuse
Trauma recovery is not easy and doesn't happen overnight. Trauma is hard to heal from and it should be - if our nervous system didn't take threat seriously, we wouldn't survive. We’re meant to ‘over-react’ to danger to survive and try to ensure it never happens again.
We can’t just think our way out of trauma. Sure, cognitive reframing is a part of trauma recovery, just as talking about our feelings around it is, but we need to understand the evolutionary neurobiology first.
Healing from trauma and finding release from being stuck in survival states begins with understanding our nervous system, increasing its flexibility and capacity for resilience. Then we can look to change our thought patterns and work through our feelings around what happened to us.