Dealing With Trauma

There are, unfortunately, too many bad things that can happen to people in this world. In technical terms, those events are supposed to be “markedly distressing to almost anyone”- but subjectivity presents challenging in mental health. First responders, fellow social workers, and physicians, for example, may witness markedly distressing things while not being markedly distressed. Trauma is very complex, however, and is more about the body’s response to that experience versus the experience itself.

Trauma is very primitive. The “flight, fight, or freeze” response is pervasive in the animal kingdom and serves important functions. “Freeze”, in particular, is a response that will sometimes bring people to therapy. “Why didn’t I fight?” is the heartbreaking question that’s asked. The answer is typically, because you were keeping yourself safe. Called the “immobility response”, this is a latch ditch effort to survive. In the animal kingdom, this is to avoid being eaten. This altered state also serves as a type of pain-killer. This involuntary process is your brain and your body being very clever to save you from suffering, as well as save your life. Where trauma comes in is the inability to move through that experience, either a figurative or literal sensation of being trapped, and a struggle to resume normal life thereafter.

Symptoms that bring people to seek therapy for trauma, or PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) include flashbacks, nightmares, and other “reexperiencing” events, such as being triggered by a familiar-looking person or driving down a particular street. There’s typically a change in your normal day-to-day experience- maybe avoiding certain situations, not feeling like yourself, detaching from loved ones. You may see the world as “all bad”. These are just a few of the possibilities of symptoms, but everyone works through their trauma differently.

Not everyone who experiences a trauma develops trauma-related symptoms long-term. In therapy, resourcing literal and figurative supports for yourself, processing, learning to work with and appreciate your “fight, flight, or freeze” response, and moving from victim to survivor, to hero/heroine can have a drastic impact on the ways that trauma has affected your life.

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