Trauma is a word that you rarely hear. Rarely is it talked about, neither by schools or educational institutions nor by family, close ones or those who experienced it themselves.
Why is it so often kept off the radar?
The answer itself is probably quite simple. The reason as to why you barely hear about trauma and the impact of trauma is that it is yet to be brought into awareness of our society what it means to be traumatized and how to deal with it.
To talk about pain we have experienced, makes us often feel weak, makes us feel vulnerable and we do not want to appear to be victims, we do not want to be looked down upon. And very often the response when we mention pain, shows that we as a society barely learned how to deal with trauma, as very often people just respond by saying „oh, it takes time to heal, time heals all wounds“ or „it`s not that bad“ or sometimes our communication partner even ignores what we shared completely and change subject and sometimes you even get told to „keep your stuff together“ and stop talking about it. And you will find, very often people get very nervous as soon as you mention the word „trauma“.
To talk about mental health itself is very often a taboo, now probably less than even five or ten years ago, but even today admitting that we are not doing well is often a no-go area.
The focus of society is very often to keep up a certain image of oneself, to move towards specific achievements on a success scale, to build up material abundance, to create a shiny identity, which in itself is wonderful, but if we are lacking mental health, all of that can sometimes mean nothing. If we are impacted by trauma, sometimes life loses it`s sparks completely.
So why am I putting the words „mental health“ and „trauma“ so closely together?
The reason is that „mental health“ issues arise, when we do not have a way to cope with our emotional baggage any longer, when it is getting too much, when not having processed certain emotions weighs us down. The reasons for that can be manyfold, but very often we did not learn how to just feel the emotions and acknowledge them when they came up, because our surrounding usually just taught us to swallow them.
With trauma itself, it is very similar, we experience trauma, because a certain situation or an accumulation of events or even something we experience on a daily basis is overwhealming, is too much.
Trauma itself does not have to be a major event, a harsh experience, trauma can even happen when small things are done to us or happen on the outside and we have nowhere to turn to, to process it, no appropriate support.
So you see, what both have in common is, that a way to cope with the emotions does not show up. The internal world is in a turmoil and we do not know how to bring back inner harmony, because we did not learn how to value our emotional side of us.
But the essential difference of both of them is, that trauma creates a certain reaction within our bodies, that does not have to be there in mental health issues (so I would describe mental health as overlaying category in which you can find trauma). And this specific reaction is called trauma response. Very often we are not even aware that how our body is reacting, is a trauma response. When we are triggered and our bodies have this type of response, our whole system switches to either Fight, Flight or Freeze mode. And this means our thinking brain is more or less switched off and our abilities to react are reduced to a very reactive or dissociative way. The options appear to be very limited and we often feel powerless. And if people have experienced early and complex traumatisation, they sometimes even don`t know any different, they sometimes even don`t know how to relax.
So this was me for the biggest part of my life. I didn`t know it any differently. I experienced the outside world as hostile, social connections as a threat and my everyday way to function was to completely drift off into a dream world, completely dissociate, into a world where I was fine, where I could have normal conversations, where I was living the life that I wanted, far away from reality.
I didn`t understand myself – nobody ever told me that my body was stuck in events that were not processed at all and long in the past – and probably most people surrounding me, weren`t even aware of it either. I was just the weird one, the one on the outside. That`s quite a lonely place to be, it`s a place of survival and barely anything more than that. And probably most of those who experienced it would word it in a similar way, saying that it almost feels like living life within the own enemy, because the own body is so foreign, so out of control and one does not feel safe at all within the own body.
But the very good news is, nowadays, there is this fabulous understanding of what trauma does to people. Nowadays, there are such amazing methods to completely heal those old wounds. And when you keep on walking on the path, to search for the solution, step by step, sooner or later doors are opening and so I came upon the information, to slowly understand my own body. It finally made sense to me, I finally could acknowledge, yes, there is actually nothing wrong with me, it is a logical consequence of what had happened to me, of what I had experienced, my body reacts in a way that is very natural in regards to what was going on.
And I thought then so often: if only ever anybody would have told me that earlier, so I could understand myself, that as soon as my body switches into trauma response, my body would be flooded with all sorts of hormones that would ensure my survival, but switch off my thinking brain. If only ever anybody would have told me that my sympathetic nervous system would be constantly active in the background, sending adrenalin into my blood stream. If only I would have learned about it earlier, I would not have wasted so many years. But yes, this is life, this is our journey, we get the information when we are ready to hear it and I wasn`t ready to listen to it beforehand.
So to everyone who knows these kind of responses from their own body, I really invite you to listen, your body is not your enemy, your body is indeed telling you a story, your own story, of your own life and it is showing you exactly what you need to look at. Your body is pointing the finger exactly to a wound, that needs to heal, that so urgently needs your attention. Do not swipe it away, give yourself the chance to overcome what you could not overcome at a certain time. Give yourself a chance to come home again, feel peace within your own body. As always, the solution is within you.
And by the way, you can read more about how trauma impacts our bodies and what it actually means if you look into Peter Levine`s or Bessel van der Kolk`s or Bruce D. Perry`s work.
Next week: Bodyimage