2022.01.02   |   8 min

Trauma Redefined

Trauma is usually thought of as something large such as living through a war, pandemic, rape, or life-threatening event like a car crash. CAMH defines trauma as:

“A lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships. Long after the traumatic event occurs, people with trauma can often feel shame, helplessness, powerlessness and intense fear.”

Trauma in Everyday Life

Trauma can happen in our everyday life, such as an experience with a boss who is belittling, from an invasive routine medical procedure, when our partner cheats on us, a pet’s death, a job interview that didn’t go as well as planned, peer bullying. It can be a shared experience by a group through racial oppression or sexism. It can also be passed on from generation to generation.

In Waking the Tiger, Dr. Peter Levine expands traumatic experiences to encompass the debilitating symptoms after a perceived threatening or overwhelming occurrence. It’s about anything that endangers our physical, emotional, social, financial, and/or spiritual well-being, which we cannot process, and we get stuck. We respond to this stress through either fight, flight or freeze.

Traumatic events and situations can happen in everyday circumstances and situations. We have all endured it to varying degrees. Our response to occurrences is subjective. None of us are immune to the stresses of life, which can result in trauma for many. The diagram illustrates how some people can return to the centre, while others may get stuck on either end of the scale or fluctuate between the two extremes.

We know we have been traumatized when it’s hard for us to be present. It can show up as being easily triggered, overly sensitive, rumination, diverting blame, constantly seeking attention and validation. We are in a state of fighting and hyperarousal. On the opposite end of the spectrum, trauma can appear as callous, cruel, indifferent, depressed, shut down from our emotions, and we are either in a state of flight or freezing. Some of us can oscillate between vigilance, feeling nothing or avoidance. When we have been traumatized, it isn’t easy to regulate and work through our emotions productively.

Collective Trauma

“A lie doesn’t become truth, wrong doesn’t become right, and evil doesn’t become good, just because it it accepted by society.” – Booker T. Washington

Collective traumas are experienced by groups or society at large. It can be overt or covert racism, sexism, materialism, or oppression of specific sub-groups. The accepted collective culture and social norms can traumatize us all, primarily if they are rooted in exploitation and othering. Amid this joint injury, it is possible to heal individually and take action from the space of compassion and love rather than anger, fear, and hatred.

Generational Trauma

Generational trauma is also known as intergenerational trauma or transgenerational trauma. We can pass the unhealed trauma we endured in our lifetimes to future generations. Sometimes it’s a behaviour or attitude that’s implied or inadvertently taught to our descendants.

Healing from Trauma

Trauma is unprocessed emotions that get stuck. Some of us haven’t learned how to cope with our feelings in a healthy manner. Trauma can easily turn into addictions or other maladaptive coping mechanisms. We can even become addicted to something seen as beneficial, such as running or meditation.

We can use meditation, running, and working out to soothe and comfort ourselves, but then we have to return and work through the emotions. Simply hauling the investigation process after we have calmed down is like getting into an argument with a partner, walking out in the middle of the discussion, arriving home and pretending the argument did not occur. The trigger is likely to surface again when there is no resolution.

There are several ways to process our stuck emotions.

R.A.I.N.

Triggers show us what we need to heal. We have these breakdowns to put each piece back to where it was meant to be. Tara Brach, an American psychologist, teaches a method using the reflective technique called RAIN, an acronym for Recognize, Allow, Investigate and Nurture. When we are in our emotional state of reactivity, we want to allow space to:

R: Recognize what is occurring. I am triggered. I am angry, hurt, and feel shame.

A: Allow the space for feeling the emotions. Allow ourselves to feel the emotion through. If we want to cry, then allow ourselves to cry.

I: Investigate what is happening and determine the source of our reactivity. Is it that we don’t feel good enough, cared for, loved, appreciated, etc.

N: Nurture that part of ourselves that needs attention, comfort, love, appreciation. This could be an affirmation such as I am worthy, I am loved, or giving compassion to ourselves at this moment.

Self-Compassion and Self-Love

“Hold yourself as a mother holds her beloved child.” —Buddha

Buddist monk Thich Nhat Hanh advocates for the benefits of providing self-compassion and self-love, and Dr. Kristin Neff provides evidence-based proof of the power of self-compassion. Equipping ourselves with compassion looks like limiting self-criticism and supporting ourselves as we would someone we dearly love. When we have filled ourselves with compassion, we become a pillar and a source of loving and patient strength for those around us.

Group Healing

We can find a safe and supportive group. When we have become traumatized, it can become difficult to trust ourselves and others. However, finding loving, supportive, empathic, safe people can act as a container for our healing.

Therapy and Counselling

We can work through our stuck emotions with guidance and help from psychotherapists or counsellors. They have been trained in several techniques, ranging from cognitive processes like talk therapy to body-centred focuses. Different therapists (long-term) and counsellors (short-term) have different skillsets and should work with us to determine which treatment plan that best suits us.

Cognitive Techniques

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT), Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS)

Body-centred Techniques

  • Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR), Schema Therapy (a.k.a. Inner Child Work), Dance-Movement Therapy (DMT), Yoga, Theater,

Medicinal Combination Techniques

  • Psychedelic therapies

It is important to seek counsel to teach us new skills, how to implement the new set of tools we acquired to live a more satisfying and fulfilling life.

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