Traumatic experiences are most often associated with the psychological consequences following a dangerous situation where a physical injury (either suffered or witnessed) has ensued. We’ve been conditioned to pay attention to physical sensations and to what is visible and “real”, while being taught to disregard anything beyond this. Psychological injuries, although invisible to our physical eyes, can be very deep and can profoundly impact our everyday life.
As one of the leading experts on trauma and addiction, Dr. Gabor Mate states: “The reality is that, in every case, mental illness is an outcome of traumatic events. And by trauma I don’t mean dramatic events. There’s a difference.
Fundamentally, it has to do with whether human needs are being met or not.” According to Dr. Mate, trauma is not the actual injury but the disconnection from ourselves that follows - the separation of our body and our emotions. The path to healing is then the path of reconnection.
Read More… The word trauma is typically associated with a major negative event in one’s life and it is generally assumed that a traumatic event is extreme. While this can be the case, in the therapy sense, trauma is focused on one’s reaction to an event and the magnitude of this reaction, rather than focusing on the event itself. We cannot control what our bodies will perceive as a threat, therefore, everyone will respond to potentially traumatic scenarios differently, no matter how moderate the event may seem. Psychological injuries from trauma are often severe and manifest themselves in different ways so it is important to heal the trauma response when the threat is no longer present in order to move on with one’s life.
What happens when trauma goes untreated?
From a long-term perspective, unprocessed trauma often leads to unanswered questions, negative memories, and destructive emotions. These adversities accumulate in the mind and become “stored” in the body, hence blocking the flow of the life force. When left unattended, such unresolved issues can result in serious psychological issues, or even physical illness. In fact, unresolved trauma stored in the body are major causes of chronic inflammation, which is a main factor of psychological and physiological pathology. It’s estimated that 60% of adults experienced difficulties during their childhood. These difficulties can be anything from neglect, being a witness of their parents’ nasty divorce, domestic violence, and/or physical, emotional, or psychological abuse. The damaging effects of such trauma on a child’s psyche are long lasting. When our responses to trauma remain unresolved and go untreated into adulthood, they can eventually resurface and result in depression, anxiety, addiction, PTSD, and even physical illness. Unresolved trauma can linger below our conscious awareness, affecting our everyday functioning many years after the actual experience has happened, leaving us unaware that these events continue to bother us. Unprocessed traumatic memories can negatively influence our mental and emotional states and severely affect our general well-being in profound ways. This lingering trauma can resurface without notice and be aggravated anytime someone knowingly or unknowingly triggers us or “pushes our buttons”. Similarly, environmental triggers, like a particular sight, smell or sound, are sometimes sufficient to trigger the fight, flight, or freeze response and be perceived as a threat by our brains. In an ordinary trauma response case, where the environmental threat is real, these automatic, instinctive, and unconscious triggers related to a trauma response will last only for a short burst of time and then our bodies cut off the parasympathetic response, and we return to a baseline level of functioning. In cases of trauma however, this baseline level is never returned to and we continue to maintain a triggered state subconsciously; our brains continue to tell us that a threat is present when it’s not. Therefore, in cases of trauma, the automatic response that our bodies produce needs to be investigated more deeply and hopefully desensitized if one wishes to resolve these issues and regain a state of health and the ability to enjoy life once again. Whether we’re facing a recent or new post-traumatic injury, it is important to pay attention to the signs and symptoms displayed by our bodies. Indeed, intense headaches, severe digestive issues, inability to focus or concentrate, lower work productivity, mood swings, severe anxiety episodes, and panic attacks all indicate that we may be dealing with a traumatic injury that requires attention.
How can seeking therapy help?
An experienced therapist can recognize the aspects of their client’s life affected by trauma. Once the nature and severity of trauma has been identified, a trauma specialist then suggests coping mechanisms so the client can nurture awareness and facilitate the resolution of the trauma. Often times, the simple act of talking to a compassionate and trustworthy individual about our problems and issues is enough to initiate our healing journey. Another benefit of working with a therapist is their ability to create an environment conducive for personal growth. When we grow, we inevitably become more resilient and feel empowered, hence we are better equipped when dealing with a similar challenge in the future.
Reference Mate, G. (2017, May 9). Addiction Expert, Speaker and Best-selling Author Dr. Gabor Maté. Dr. Gabor Maté. https://drgabormate.com/.