What is Trauma?

Trauma is a fact of life but does not have to be a life sentence - Peter LevineTrauma falls into two classifications – shock trauma and developmental trauma. They can overlap or occur separately and can have many different faces.

Shock trauma results from feeling overwhelmed usually by a one off event. Most of the time this is a sudden and unexpected event with a distinct beginning and end. This interrupts the flow of life and often is accompanied by a “frozen” response throughout the event. This can create some level of dissociation together with emotional and physical numbness.  The person also can feel as though their world has suddenly fallen apart or shattered.  

Shock trauma can be experienced as anxiety or mania to be followed by a crashing perceived as depression. This alteration in moods and behaviour may appear like manic-depressive or bipolar disorder.

Some examples of shock trauma are:

Falls, accidents, assault, near drowning, natural disaster, invasive medical procedures, witnessing of violence. First responders, policemen and similar professions can be exposed to shock trauma.

Some symptoms of shock trauma can include:

Rage, panic attacks, depression, exhaustion, withdrawal from family and friends, sense of hopelessness, loss of interest in activities, disturbing memories or flashbacks, hypervigilance and a sense of needing to be on guard even in the absence of a threat. 

Developmental trauma results when an infant or child does not receive the nurturing or support needed. Usually this involves events that are so overwhelming to a child that the nervous system cannot mature in an age appropriate manner. This disruption in the nervous system can cause long-lasting changes and delays in physical maturation, behaviour, capacity to think, handle emotions and socialise.

Some examples of developmental trauma are:

Neglect; prenatal or perinatal trauma; growing up in families with addiction and/or violence; loss of a significant person during early childhood; bullying; family illness; poverty; physical, sexual or emotional abuse

Some symptoms of developmental trauma can include:

Unstable or painful moods, feeling isolated or emotionally distant, difficulty bonding with one’s own children, feeling disconnected from parts of the body or from others, inability to control emotions or adapt easily to stress, unpleasant sensations that move randomly throughout the body, migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, thoughts of not belonging on the planet, hypersensitivity to sounds, sights, touch and many others.

Often people do not know that they are living with developmental trauma.

Duration and approach to treatment between shock and developmental trauma are different.  Generally treatment for shock trauma tends to be shorter than for developmental trauma. 

The symptoms of trauma can be stable, that is, ever-present. They can also be unstable, meaning that they can come and go and be triggered by stress. Or they can remain hidden for decades and suddenly surface. Usually, symptoms do not occur individually, but come in groups. They often grow increasingly complex over time, becoming less and less connected with the original trauma experience.  - Peter A. Levine, Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body

Trauma can result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Some of the symptoms can develop years following the event and present like this:

  • Hypervigilance, panic attacks, increased startle response, anger attacks, chronic anxiety
  • Hyperarousal – this can show as physical symptoms (increase in heart rate, sweating, cold sweats, difficulty breathing, muscular tension) or as a mental process (increased repetitious thoughts, racing mind and worry
  • Nightmares, flashbacks, somatic symptoms, paralysis and behavioral enactments
  • Overwhelming worry and fear, depression
  • Dissociated aspects of the original trauma may appear on a somatic or physical level (for example feeling left gasping for air, not being able to breathe, unexplained stomach pains, Chronic Pain, Fibromyalgia)
  • Unconscious repetitive and destructive patterns of engagement with others (repeated victimization, acting out or in sexually)
  • Withdrawing and isolation from regular life and avoidance of interpersonal relationships. Difficulty trusting others
  • Addictions of any kind
  • Disconnection and dissociation between thoughts, feelings, sensations, behaviors and images
  • Rigidity in responding to life situations – loss of choice and flexibility – responding to current situations as if they held the same danger as the past traumatic experience.
  • Repeated abusive or traumatic relationships. Compulsion to repeat the actions that caused the problem in the first place.
  • A sense of stuckness, frozenness, numbness, immobility, lack of motivation, inability to move forward.
  • A sense of shame or pervading guilt. Feeling weak or helpless.

To minimize the possibility of developing PTSD, or in case of an older trauma to reduce its effect, it is important to seek professional help.
I can help you resolve and overcome some of these symptoms.

The first truth, Buddha taught his disciples, is that suffering is part of the human condition. If we simply try to avoid confronting painful experiences, there is no way to begin the healing process. In fact, this denial creates the very conditions that promote and prolong unnecessary suffering.”

“The second noble truth states that we must discover why we are suffering. We must cultivate the courage to look deeply, with clarity and courage, into our own suffering. We often hold the tacit assumption that all of our suffering stems from events in the past. But, whatever the initial seed of trauma, the deeper truth is that our suffering is more closely a result of how we deal with the effect these past events have on us in the present.”

“The third noble truth holds that suffering can be transformed and healed.”

“The fourth noble truth states that, once you have identified the cause of your suffering, you must find an appropriate path…… to lead you out of suffering and help you recapture the simple wonders of life.”

― Peter A. Levine, Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body.

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