Trauma isn’t exclusive to military combat, sexual harassment or catastrophic events.
Trauma, by definition, can simply be something out of the ordinary for you. A therapist once gave me a definition of trauma in six words.
Too much, too soon, too fast.
Meaning, most of us have been probably been traumatized in one way or another. Because we all have found ourselves overwhelmed in some out of control and incomprehensible and unpredictable situation.
But the dangerous part is, few of us give full weight to the experiences that happened to us. Not because there’s no dramatic score in the background to inform us how we feel, but because we engage in something called trauma denial.
We say to ourselves, this can’t be true, it’s not possible, and it could never happen to someone like me.
This is a natural part of the human coping cycle. When we don’t see something, that protects us. That creates a sense of coherence in our lives. Our assumption is, whatever trauma we experienced will sink away into eventual forgetfulness.
But as the doctors say, the body keeps score. It remembers everything.
For example, it never even occurred to me that my first career was a form of trauma. But ask any of my close friends or family members, it was too much, too soon, too fast.
Thanks to the viral nature of the internet, I got taken for a ride before I was ready to go on one. My emotional, existential, physical and biological foundation wasn’t robust enough to support it. Hence the multiple hospital visits.
Turns out, though, we are never totally free of our traumatic past. We can’t just wallpaper over it. All trauma is trapped inside the body. That stress has to come out somewhere. If we don’t give weight to our experiences, they will give weight to us.
For me, that came in the shape of anxiety and panic attacks. Some were minor waves of free floating fear, others were full on biological events.
Vanderkolk, the psychiatrist noted for his research in the area of trauma, explains in his book how common this type of reaction is.
Long after a traumatic experience is over, it might be reactivated at the slightest hint of danger and mobilize our disturbed brain circuits and secrete massive amounts of stress hormones. This precipitates unpleasant emotions intense physical sensations, and impulsive and aggressive actions. And these posttraumatic reactions feel incomprehensible and overwhelming.
This is the danger of not giving weight to our out of the ordinary experiences.
Anytime something feels like too much, too soon, too fast, it counts. The body is keeping a tally. We cannot hide from that.
Trauma is not what happens to us, but what happens inside of us.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
If you knew that people all around you were carrying the burden of traumas you’ve only fleetingly imagined, how might you treat them differently?