TRAUMA is any frightening or emotionally overwhelming experience or event that exceeds our ability to cope. 1in 7 of us will experience a significant trauma by the age of 18. Some will experience a single traumatic event and for others it may be a series of events occurring over prolonged periods of time.
All types of abuse are classified as trauma, as are domestic violence and abuse (including if you are a witness to this in your home), bullying, assaults, accidents/injury, life threatening experiences either to yourself or to someone you love or if you are witness to a threat of life. Sudden and traumatic loss and bereavement. Situations of war, terror, attack and captivity are all traumas. Unbearable stress can also be traumatic, it is believed that tension, stress and trauma are interconnected.
It is common to experience anxiety and panic in the first few months following such an experience, as we try to make sense of it and heal emotionally. For some, around 25%, there may be longer lasting effects from the trauma and those symptoms can be frightening, confusing and overwhelming. Trauma therapy can help to reduce these symptoms, help you heal and come to terms with what has happened.
In the book, Trauma is Really Strange (Haines, S. 2016), it explains the following useful information about trauma:
3 Things to know that can help us understand and overcome trauma:
There is trauma, terrible things happen to human beings.
We can overcome trauma, humans are hard wired to survive, otherwise we would not be here. As a species we evolved ways of surviving attack, loss, abuse etc...
Healing trauma is about meeting the body, by paying attention to feelings in the body we can learn to self-regulate strong emotions and teach our brains that the past threat is no longer present. It is over and we are now safe. (Haines, S. 2016. Trauma is Really Strange)
Sadly, we know that humans can be capable of great cruelty. However, we are also capable of great compassion.
THE NEOCORTEX - THE THINKING BRAIN (NEW BRAIN)
THE MAMMALIAN BRAIN
THE REPTILIAN BRAIN
This is the part of the brain that deals with logic, rationale, problem solving, memory for events and facts and verbal expression. This is the part that enables us to make sense of our feelings and meaning of our experiences.
Non-verbal, emotional, relational experience, feeling and gut memories and traumatic memories. This is also the part of the brain where shame lives. Shame is an evolutionary response designed to protect the survival of a group or species... it emerged about 150 million years ago. Shame is our fear of loss of connection. Shame stops us from being vulnerable with our fellow humans for fear of rejection and abandonment.
Should put the information received from the amygdala into context ie; this red hat - in the here & now - activates a past memory (happened 10 years ago), it is not happening now. But when the amygdala perceives something in the present that triggers a past traumatic event, it sounds the alarm system releasing stress hormones which suppress the hippocampus. This stops it from being able to discern the past from the present. The New Brain literally goes offline (like losing the wifi connection) and we can't think straight. The amygdala hijacks the hippocampus and the reptilian brain takes over, activating the threat responses: fight, flight, freeze, flop, appease.
Rage. Fear. Racing heart rate, fast and shallow breathing, instinctual, survival threat responses: fight, flight, freeze, flop, appease.
Takes in information from the environment through the senses (sight, smell, sound, touch, taste) and automatically sounds the alarm system if it senses threat of danger - activating the fight, flight, freeze, flop, appease reflex.
Our threat response system keeps us safe, protects us from life threatening danger, it is essential to our survival. However, when you have a history of trauma, this alarm system is especially sensitive and is often activated by events in the here and now that are perceived as threatening but in reality are not because they have reminders that ping us back to the original trauma, it could be something as simple as a particular scent. This can be very alarming to experience, it feels like the traumatic event is happening all over again because the traumatic memory feels so real.
Learning how to regulate our emotions using grounding, soothing and calming techniques, we can reboot our brains and turn off the internal alarm system (threat response), this can help us master some of the impacts of trauma, like flashbacks, dissociation, anxiety and panic. This enables the brain to recognise that the trauma is over, and right here, right now, we are safe.
In shame-based trauma, shame is the glue that holds the power of the trauma over us. In overcoming trauma we experience a grieving process.The key to healing shame-based trauma is compassion.