I grew up, as children tend to do. That’s what I thought happened to me: basic American growing up. I knew there were tough times for me and for my family, but nothing that felt too major so when a friend of mine mentioned I was experiencing leftover results from trauma, I said, “No, no, no. My parents never hit me; I was never touched in inappropriate places; I was never chained or malnourished or raped.”
I didn’t feel I could relate to the word “trauma” which was categorized in my mind next to “blunt force trauma” which I knew had nothing to do with me. I thanked my friend for her input but dismissed the conversation as soon as we had paid for and finished drinking our coffees.
Then, I started noticing my strong emotional reactions to specific circumstances in my life. These emotional reactions came on strong and were physically uncontrollable: my heart would race; I would immediately break out into a sweat; my mind flipped into overdrive; I stopped hearing and would start defending myself immediately. For days following the upset, I would have an irritable stomach, no feeling of hunger or thirst, and I’d stay wide awake steeped in anxiety.
Whoa. That wasn’t me.
One day, I stumbled upon a quote that changed my understanding and relationship with trauma. Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk said:
“The big issue for traumatized people is that they don’t own themselves anymore. Any loud sound, anybody insulting them, hurting them, saying bad things, can hijack them away from themselves.”
He went on to explain, “when you get traumatized… these [foundational things like eating and peeing and pooping]… the most elementary body functions go awry when you are terrified.”
That is exactly what was happening to me. I lost myself. My body physically struggled to carry on.
Psychological trauma occurs after any distressing or life-threatening event. A sufferer is left with extreme anxiety, anger, sadness, PTSD or develop problems with self-esteem, relationships, sleeping or other methods of care. My personal psychological traumas surfaced when I was attempting to have a close relationship with my partner.
This new-found understanding of trauma helped me discover my personal relationship to trauma and it set the foundation on which I could begin to heal.
Trauma arrives in our lives in many forms: rejection, abandonment, injustice, humiliation, betrayal, and injustice.
Triggers are what set off our trauma and activate whatever self-preservation reaction we have developed to fight off the trauma. Triggers can be activated when you feel like you aren’t getting or will never get one of these things: acceptance, understanding, control, attention, peacefulness, order, safety, fun, respect, being needed, being right, comfort, balance, variety, predictability, new challenges or opportunities, being liked or valued, being treated fairly, freedom, consistency, love, included, or autonomy.
It is also important to understand that trauma–however it comes into your life–may not have been intentionally meant to hurt you. My personal traumas came from experiencing ugly and multiple divorces all before the age of 18. I also dealt with my parents trying to raise me while also starting and developing new relationships of their own. None of this was easy for them or me. I don’t believe my parents intended to leave me with traumas during that period of my life, but traumas I walked away with. They didn’t surface until I was trying to start and develop my own romantic relationships.
How do you know if you’re experiencing a reaction from trauma?
You may be experiencing a reaction from trauma if…
- You feel you lose yourself when reacting to someone or something.
- You have a strong physical reaction where your foundational body functions go awry.
- You experience an immediate or fast emotional reaction (anger, fury, sadness, fear).
- Your emotional reactions are hurting yourself and others around you.
- Your reactions are keeping you from achieving what you truly want and desire.
- Your physical health is weakened due to unclear reasons.
If you are experiencing a reaction from trauma, know that there are many ways to heal the original wound and develop healthier reactions when a trigger is activated. Your life is precious, and there is no time for bomb-like triggers to be hanging around in your life ready to cause havoc for you whenever touched.