“The byproduct of trauma is unregulated body experience and an uncontrollable cascade of strong emotions and physical sensations. Traumatized persons frequently experience themselves as being at the mercy of their sensations and their emotions, having lost the capacity to effectively regulate these functions.” Pat Ogden
There are two key features that impact whether or not a tragic experience is stored as trauma:
vulnerability - a profound feeling of helplessness
abandonment - the tragic absence of protection
The brain's natural response to danger (fight, flight, freeze, collapse) is unable to be completed and therefore remains "active" within the central nervous system leaving the one impacted on alert. Many find themselves organizing their lives and relationships in a way to avoid exposure to the feared stimulus. This can be greatly limiting and debilitating to one's desired quality and satisfaction of life.
Single-Incident Trauma | PTSD
This is an acute experience of symptoms due to a single-incident event, such as an assault, witness to violence, tragic accident. Symptoms usually involve flashbacks of the event, nightmares, and feelings of panic associated with reliving the event. This can be a significant and life altering experience that requires trauma-focused therapy to resolve the lingering stress response within the central nervous system.
Complex Trauma | C-PTSD
Complex Trauma involves a repeated, prolonged experience of interpersonal abuse (physical, sexual, psychological) in which the individual is unable (helpless) to escape or receive protection from the harm. Many times, what adds to the confusion is that the abuser is also a caretaker in some capacity offering aspects of care along with the harm. The victim is left confused. Some examples of this include: childhood sexual, physical, or psychological abuse by an older, more powerful person; secondary trauma from witnessing abuse of another; domestic partner terror; human trafficking.
Research of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) has found that the higher the degree of difficult experiences during childhood, the higher the risk for health related problems later in life. This assessment* can be a helpful guide to provide context and to identify the source of wounding to aid in the healing process.
Relational | Developmental Trauma
Developmental trauma occurs when a child (vulnerable by nature) experiences a deficit in the care of physical or emotional needs; the message received is "you're on your own" (abandonment). These deficits may include the effects of childhood physical or emotional neglect, early losses, birth trauma, medical trauma, parental drug or alcohol abuse, caregiver misattunement, and secondary trauma. These individuals often feel depressed, have difficulties with affect regulation (hyper-arousal or hypo-arousal), challenges in interpersonal relationships, and difficulty with receiving kindness, care and comfort. They don’t feel fully alive. Developmentally, children are dependent on their caregivers for many needs - i.e. physical care, emotional attunement/regulation, affirmation, protection, guidance, etc. When there is a significant deficit, children begin to serve as their own caregivers in order to survive. Their system codes the message "I'm on my own; people are untrustworthy". This is a significant stressor to the system of a child and impairs their ability to securely engage with their world, which is necessary for healthy development. The negative belief that "I'm alone" can continue into adulthood, leaving the person feeling vulnerable and unsafe in life and relationships.
If any of these descriptions resonate with your own story, there's so much hope for you. Trauma-focused therapy can facilitate healing of these wounds to create more space and freedom for you to be who you were innately designed to be. I use an integrative approach of Attachment-Based EMDR*, Internal Family Systems (IFS*), and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (MB-CBT) to help clients find healing and transformation for the wounds inflicted by traumatic experiences.
*Please click link for more information.