Trauma: Understanding Trauma

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Trauma: Understanding Trauma

Trauma is a horrible thing!

Think of the #MeToo Movement and all of the women involved who, for years, did not have a voice and thus were not able to heal from what happened to them.

Yet, trauma and sexual abuse are not just a women’s issue. Men also have been sexually violated.

And truly healing from trauma begins with understanding more about what it is.

What is trauma?

Trauma is a reaction to something that is happening to you or around you. You may be the only person reacting to what is happening, right in that moment.

Trauma is about you and your reaction. 

There are different types of trauma. It can be overt, meaning that it's obvious. Or it may be covert, meaning it is subtle and not always obvious, even to the person being traumatized. 

Trauma can also vary in size. It can be a little trauma, meaning it was not big and not a huge deal, although it did affect you. And then there is big trauma and it did really affect you. A big trauma might be a car accident, war, natural disaster, assault, sexual assault, or something else.

Trauma is not always a one-time event. It can also be chronic, meaning that it has happened repeatedly over time. Chronic trauma could be a series of little traumas. Chronic trauma can be just as damaging as a big trauma. 

How do we react to trauma?

A person can react to trauma in many different ways. We respond in ways very much like the animals of this world, which includes flight, fight, freeze, submit, and cry.

  • The flight response to trauma is leaving what is going on because you don't want to be in that situation. Usually, it is a flight into addictions — substance use, sex, pornography, gambling, overspending, gaming, disordered eating, and something else. This behavior becomes an escape from engaging in life. In this case, the addiction is just a way of dealing with the emotions from trauma. 
  • The fight response to trauma is when one wants to fight. This can be an outward fight with others — rage, physical assault, physical battering, sexual assault, rape, or other aggressive behavior. Or it can be an inward fight with your emotions — with yourself — and involve self-harm and possibly suicide.
  • Freezing in response to trauma is not being able to move. There may be anxiety and fear associated with such a response and it frequently happens to young children when there is nothing else they can do. It may be what happens to a woman who was not able to say "No" and make sure that her "No" is actually heard and not challenged or ignored.
  • Submit is accepting what happens in the moment. For a child, this may be the only option. If not processed, this response to trauma can lead to a collapse of the spine (the spine not being straight and erect) and depression.
  • The cry is the voicing of one's concern. Usually, this means being loud, though it can take many forms. Think of birds that squawk about their displeasure over how they are being treated by another bird or animal.  

When you are getting frustrated, angry, or reacting in some other way, your subconscious often brings up something from the past.

You are reliving the past, at that moment, though you probably do not realize that your past is currently driving you. This is how unresolved trauma keeps you stuck in the same way of doing things and prevents you from moving forward in life.

When you're stuck in your response to trauma, you keep doing the same thing. For example, if you have an alcohol addiction, your trauma continue to make you drink, to the point where you cannot quit and need more of the same thing to get a sense of relief. You may be in freeze mode and don't want to be involved in life. It may be something else you do to cope.

Another kind of trauma is relational trauma, which are unhealthy beliefs that you have about yourself.

What makes this trauma different from the other types is that it may have a developmental component. It happens in relation to others.

This type of trauma is usually seen with important attachment relationships you have growing up — with parents or other caregivers — although there may be issues that start later in life.

How do you treat others? How do you let others treat you? It needs to be a two-way relationship.

Although one may give more for a while, adult relationships are about equal give-and-take over time. There needs to be respect without manipulation or control.

Trauma is your reactions that is happening in your life.

The trauma could be little or big, a one-time event or chronic. Your response to trauma might be to fight, flight, submit, freeze, or cry. You might also experience relational trauma, the unhealthy beliefs you've developed about yourself.

Unresolved trauma drives you in what you do, even though you may not be aware of this.

How do you react to trauma? What could you improve or change? What are you willing to change? What will you change?

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Audrey Tait is a counselor, dietitian, author and founder of Inspirational Insights Counseling, Inc., who helps people overcome addictions, eating disorders, and create positive affirmations in their lives. Learn more about anger by reading her book, Reflective Meditations Trilogy: Unraveling My Trauma, Healing My Trauma, and Letting Go-Forgiveness.

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This article was originally published at Inspirational Insights Counselling. Reprinted with permission from the author.