Many of my clients say these types of phrases: 

“It’s not that bad. I mean there are lots of people out there who have had it worse than me.”

“It was my fault that it happened.”

“It could have been so much worse. It didn’t go that far.”

“Maybe I was okay with it. I didn’t stop them. Maybe I wanted it to happen.”

 

I have heard clients say these words while they put together pieces of their lives that took an unwanted turn. These pieces can stem from childhood, from vehicle wrecks, from places of war, from schools, from marriages, and from homes. The collective word we used to describe these pieces is trauma, but what exactly is trauma? 

The formal definition of trauma is, “being exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence through direct exposure, witnessing the event, learning that a relative or close friend was exposed to a trauma, or indirect exposure to aversive details of the event, usually in the course of professional duties.” 

This paints a picture. But it does little to tell you where you are or who you are, which can be the things you remember most when exposed to a traumatic event. It can be really challenging to name your own trauma and so I wanted to help you identify 4 ways you may have experienced a traumatic event that is still impacting your life.

 

Re-experiencing

 

First, traumatic experiences tend to draw you out of the present moment and back to re-experiencing the event itself. Your body may be in one location, but you may find your mind distracted by an event that occurred years ago. 

This occurrence is not a pleasant reminiscing, but a nightmarish trap that can sap your ability to connect with your environment or the people around you. This may cause feelings of guilt or shame to emerge as you negatively evaluate yourself for your difficulties to engage with the present moment.

 

Avoidance

 

Second, it is very common to avoid reminders of your traumatic event. This may look like driving ten minutes out of your way to avoid an intersection where you experienced a car accident, sleeping with the lights on, or avoiding fireworks displays. When we experience danger, it is adaptive for us to escape that danger, but when our brains have been wired to read danger in these other contexts, it can lead to a need to escape from situations.

 

Self-Blame

 

Third, trauma can paint us in broad, negative strokes. Frequently, we want to be in control, something that trauma often takes away. Because of this, trauma may tell you that you are powerless, weak, foolish, or you are complicit in what occurred. You may blame yourself for what happened. 

Your thoughts may sound like the following: 

If I had been stronger…

If I had said no…

If I had known what was going to happen…

 

Doubt

 

Lastly, your brain’s prime directive is to keep you alive. When the world demonstrates that it isn’t safe and it isn’t under our control, our brain can assert this directive. You may find yourself skeptical of the intentions of others around you including family members and friends. 

You may doubt your own intentions, believing that you destroy the people you live with and the places you inhabit. Often, the immediate solution to these problems is to isolate from others and to withhold who you are from relationships with others. You may feel like a ghost in your social relationships or that no one really knows you and that you are okay with that, because it’s better than being hurt again.

 

If you are watching this right now and you find that any of this resonates with you, please, I am asking that you reach out to someone for help. Take your time in choosing someone to trust. Our therapists at Cedar Tree are here to help you as you take steps toward stepping out beneath the shadows of your pain. 

A therapist is not here to judge or compare your trauma with others. We are here to work with you in understanding what has happened, the suffering you have experienced, and to encourage you in your steps toward a full and meaningful relationship with your life and your story. Click here to schedule an appointment today! 

David Tobey

David Tobey

Mens & Couples Therapist

I help men and couples who feel like they are sinking take a brave step toward wholeness in a space designed to remind you that you do not have to be alone in your pain.

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