Trauma is defined as a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing and overwhelming. It goes beyond the person’s ability to cope and causes feelings of helplessness and self-doubt.
Trauma is determined, not by the event itself, but by a person’s view and reaction to the event. Everyone processes events differently because we face them through the lens of prior experiences in our lives. If a person feels that they cannot cope with the event and becomes overwhelmed, then that is a trauma for that person, regardless of what the event is.
Trauma causes a wide range of emotions including numbness, sadness, fear, anger, shame and self-doubt.
Trauma can be divided into two main categories:
- Developmental trauma – this is where a person suffers trauma in the first few years of their lives. This includes such things as neglect, lack of emotional attachment, abuse, early loss or bereavement, witnessing violence or aggression etc. Even though the person may not have any memory of this trauma, it has affected the way their brain has developed and it has affected how they react to others in the present.
- A reaction to a life event that is overwhelming.
This can be a one off event such as a rape or sexual assault, a car accident etc, or it can be a prolonged event such as continuous domestic violence.
Traumatic events can lead to PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), which is where the feelings are so strong that the event feels like it is happening over and over again in the present day. The emotion relating to the event has not lessened and the person is stuck.
In therapy, developing a strong and safe relationship with a counsellor or psychotherapist where emotions can be expressed, can help greatly with developmental trauma.
With other trauma, working through the event itself and, more specifically, the emotions relating to the event, can help a person to process and integrate it, so that it becomes less and less overwhelming.
Talking about the trauma can place it in time and context and help the person to realise that the danger has passed.
This is a slow process and the therapist will always make sure that you are safe and do not become re-traumatised.