Today is national Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder awareness day.
Many of those with PTSD don’t seek treatment. Sometimes they simply fear the labels attached to PTSD. Or, they may not even realize that they experienced trauma.
That was me.
Becoming Aware Of My Trauma
For almost a decade, I have been working on unraveling years of chronic stress and anxiety, and learning various modalities to relax my nervous system.
Yet, until recently, I never considered that I had PTSD or that I had experienced “Trauma.”
Although I had sustained several major accidents as a child and years of chronic high stress and pressure that often caused physical illness, I never thought of myself as someone who had been through a “Trauma.”
To me, “trauma” was the province of soldiers who had been through war, survivors of physical abuse or attacks, or Holocaust survivors such as my grandmother.
My experiences seemed tame in comparison.
Last year I learned that my nervous system was locked in sympathetic overload, aka the “fight-or-flight” response. This sent me down a path of learning more about trauma and its various forms, and how it impacts everything from our relationships to our productivity.
Along this path, I have learned that I have experienced several traumas, especially in my early formative years (prior to age 10), when my brain was still developing.
My work shifted from relaxing my nervous system to retraining my nervous system. This work includes both physical therapy, emotional therapy, and modalities that work with the subconscious.
Trauma is multi-layered and impacts all aspects of our being.
To help create awareness about trauma, here are ten things I’ve learned about trauma in the past year.
10 Things I’ve Learned About Trauma
(1) Not all trauma is “Big-T” “Trauma.”
The old consensus was that PTSD just affected war veterans. We now understand PTSD can affect anyone.
Trauma can be an accident, a natural disaster, a death of a loved one.
Trauma doesn’t always happen from one big event. Nor is it necessarily a prolonged experience like war or domestic abuse.
Trauma can result from any persistent situation of prolonged uncertainty.
This can include living with food insecurity, as millions of people do, homelessness, unemployment, debt, or prolonged illness.
We can also experience trauma if we consistently face the risk of being attacked (like bullying in school) or getting sick.
Systemic racism, feeling at risk from school bullies or shooters, and the current COVID pandemic are all traumas.
(2) Trauma is not just from a physical experience
We often think of trauma as stemming from a physical experience, like war, physical abuse, being in an accident, or going through a natural disaster.
Mental and emotional abuse also are trauma, even if subtle.
Any situation that puts us in a constant state of not feeling safe, or where we feel unable to let our guard down, creates chronic tension in the body.
(3) Trauma lives in the body
Trauma lives in the body.
This is true even if the initial trauma was not physical.
Anything you experience, even on a mental or emotional level, becomes physical trauma.
Our nervous system is responsible for telling us how to use our bodies. As we repeat a certain posture or movement, we train the muscles to that pattern until it becomes a habit — we don’t have to think about it anymore.
Even if we do the mindset work to release memories of the trauma that live in our minds, this muscle memory in our bodies remains.
(4) Another person’s trauma can become your trauma
You don’t even have to be the one who experienced the event directly to develop trauma and PTSD.
For example, witnessing an accident can also cause PTSD.
Trauma experienced by those around you can also impact you
This is especially relevant to families..
Research has shown that children can experience trauma by witnessing a parent’s trauma and by experiencing posttraumatic symptoms of the parent.
When a trauma survivor experiences severe PTSD symptoms, there may be negative effects on other family members. This is especially relevant to the parent-child relationship.
(5) We inherit certain traumas
The field of epigenetics explores how trauma is encoded into our DNA. It can be cultural as well as familial. Families who have experienced significant trauma across generations risk transmitting their trauma to the next generation.
(6) Chronic stress can be a trauma
When body experiences too much chronic stress the nervous system is unable to self-regulate. When this continues for extended periods of time it becomes a trauma in itself.
(7) Trauma isn’t just about the past
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is getting increased attention and recognition as a real issue, which is important.
Equally important: we need to recognize the existence of “Present-Traumatic Stress Conditions” — such as our current climate. If we take appropriate actions now to address what is happening we can possibly avoid severe PTSD in the future.
Unfortunately nobody is talking about the inevitable PTSD issues that will arise from the COVID pandemic and the reckoning over systemic racism.
(8) Trauma and healing trauma happen in a realm beyond logic and rational thought
It’s important to understand that healing trauma isn’t just about consciously recognizing you’re no longer at risk.
You can’t just “get over it.” Even if your mind forgets or forgives, your body holds on because it has been conditioned to a way of reacting and protecting.
(9) You can’t rush your healing
Any kind of recovery happens in stages. First you have to get safe. Then you have to remember and mourn. Then you have to return and connect with day-to-day human life.
This work must be done slowly, allowing time and space for integration at each stage.
Integration corresponds to the season of winter, and the time of rest. Our culture tends to skip over this part, rushing from one thing to the next.
Healing trauma requires patience.
(10) Healing cultural and generational trauma starts within
We either heal trauma or we perpetuate it. Healing our cultural traumas, including the effects of systemic racism, starts with healing our individual traumas.
This work starts within. That means looking at ourselves and at our ancestry, and resolving that the trauma stops with us. We don’t have to pass it on.