I often have clients talk about events in their lives that were bad, but when I ask them about their trauma they often say, “oh that’s just the way it was.” Sometimes the story I’m told is quite horrific. Telling the story seems to make it a little too real for many.
As the saying goes, denial isn’t just a river in Egypt. Denial often goes hand-in-hand with shame. As humans it can be easier to just ignore or reject that something from our past, especially if it was done to us by a loved one, is causing us major pain in the present. When we are victimized we try to adapt and say what happened to us wasn’t that bad, or was normal. This keeps us stuck and wreaks havoc on our present day lives and relationships. Denial and shame push our pain deep into our unconsciousness where it quietly influences us to act in ways that do not serve us. It happens so often it is practically a universal truth for all of us.
With trauma, it’s not just about what happened to us. Trauma also takes up residence in our bodies. This includes both our nervous system and our endocrine system. It puts tremendous stress on our adrenal glands. It puts our body in a state where it feels like it’s under attack. So the problem goes way beyond just our thoughts and behaviors.
The good news is this can be worked with. Somatic Experiencing and EMDR allow us to access the pain and heal from it. The trick is getting out of our thinking head and into the sensations in our bodies. As children, this is easier to do than as adults. We often tell teach ourselves to ignore what our body is trying to tell us it needs. In a sense this is a re-learned skill that can take some effort to develop. This is understandable if we’ve spent decades trying to ignore our bodies.
People who study yoga, martial arts, and meditation often have an easier time with this. At first, it can seem as though our body is speaking another language to us and it can be frustrating. If you stick with it and work with a therapist you have developed trust with you can recover.
So how can you tell if what happened deserves to be seen as “traumatic?” If it’s something that’s not going away with time, makes you start to excessively worry or dwell on it, you find yourself going out of your way to avoid something that reminds you of the event, it gives you nightmares, or you have a hair-trigger anger reaction, it might be is worth taking steps to work on it. The event doesn’t have to be what soldiers dealt with in war, or a sexual assault for the event to be traumatic. It can be car accidents, medical procedures, being harshly disciplined by a parent, or witnessing any of those things. It has nothing to do with strength of character or weakness. Although our society seems to like to treat it as that.