UNDERSTANDING TRAUMA

There are many ways in today’s world to be impacted by a traumatic experience. According to one study, 89 percent of adults in the United States report having experienced at least one traumatic event in their lives, with most adults reporting exposure to multiple traumatic events. (Widen the Window pg. 17) That’s a lot of people.

The impact of trauma on the brain and the body is becoming more and more understood and ongoing research is helping to inform new ways to heal trauma. Of course, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop trauma but for those that do it can be a life-changing experience.

Trauma can’t be defined solely by what happens to a person but also by what happens to the person’s nervous system as a result of an event, a series of events, or even a set of ongoing conditions. Because everyone’s experiences, histories, and nervous systems are different, what may be highly stressful to one person may be traumatic to another.

In simple terms trauma has the effect of overwhelming a person’s ability to regulate the experience in their thinking, their feelings, and in their body. Trauma can hijack the brain and leave the “fight or flight” response stuck in the “on” position even when the threat is no longer there. Dr. Elizabeth Stanley wrote, “Trauma is not just something very unpleasant that will fade in time. Trauma changes how we perceive the world we live in. The traumatic event itself may have been in the past but those post-traumatic reactions rob us of the capacity to feel fully alive and in the present.”

Fortunately, as human beings, we have an amazing capacity to heal from trauma but often need help in doing so. Clinical psychologist Stan Tatkin and his wife, Tracey Boldemann-Tatkin have said, “we are hurt in relationship and we heal in relationship.” (Diane Poole Heller ?) Healing trauma involves healing the disconnection that trauma causes from ourselves and others and ultimately restoring the body and mind to a state of stability and rest.