We are all threatened with suffering from three directions: from our own body…; from the external world, which may rage against us with overwhelming and merciless forces of destruction; and finally from our relations to other fellowmen. The suffering which comes from this last source is perhaps more painful than any other.
“Trauma” originates from Greek and means a “wound.” It is often synonymous with shock, emotional upheaval and distress, strain, pain, anguish, misery, deep sorrow, heartache and grief – words that can help us to understand its deep and long-lasting impact.
Trauma: An Experience That Is More Than The Mind Can Bear
The essence of traumatic experience is that it overwhelms our mental protective “shield.” In such times, our typical ways of thinking and feeling, as well as ordinary ways of coping with stress, are rendered inadequate and we automatically resort to extreme modes of coping that, over time, can lead to a myriad of emotional, social and interpersonal difficulties. If these difficulties are severe enough, they could lead to symptoms collectively known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
There is no “right” or “wrong” way to think, feel or respond to trauma. Your responses are normal reactions to abnormal events. Nevertheless, there are some common reactions to a traumatic experience that you might be able to identify with:
• Recurrent and intrusive recollections of the trauma
• Paralyzing fear, anxiety and/or depression
• Consuming feelings of self-blame
• Attempts to avoid thoughts and feelings associated with the trauma
• A markedly diminished interest in significant activities
• Frequent irritability or outbursts of anger
• Disturbing nightmares, and/or flashbacks
• Feeling emotionally numb, disconnected or estranged from others
• Efforts to suppress thoughts about your trauma with alcohol, drugs or sexual acting out
• Hyper-vigilance and feeling easily startled
If you’ve gone through a traumatic experience, it can take a while to get through the physical, mental and emotional pain and feel safe again. There is no one “right” timeline to recover from trauma, and everyone heals at his or her own pace. If you have been experiencing one or more of the above symptoms, it’s understandable that you wish you could finally find relief and “move on.” But, like mending a broken leg or filling a cavity, there are some things in life that you simply cannot do without help. If your difficulties persist, getting treatment for your trauma is critical to your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. Though time is essential to healing, you may also need someone by your side to help with your healing process.
The Many “Faces” of Trauma
Trauma could be caused by a specific terrifying event or experience (“Single-incident”), such as a car accident, natural disaster, sexual assault or medical emergency. It could also be associated with more long-term, harmful experiences (“Cumulative trauma”), such as domestic violence, early childhood abuse and/or neglect, sexual harassment or intrusive/prolonged medical treatment. Regardless of the form the trauma takes, it shatters our sense of security, making us feel profoundly helpless and vulnerable in a world that we now perceive as dangerous. Below are a few examples of different types of trauma, their impact and hope for healing.
Rape and Sexual Assault Trauma
The emotional trauma caused by a sexual assault can be severe and long-lasting. You might have been assaulted by a stranger or more likely, by someone you knew, such as a date, a colleague or a marriage partner (marital rape), which could further exacerbate feelings of betrayal, shame, self-doubt and anger. It is essential to know that you were NOT responsible for being assaulted.
Following a sexual assault, you may be feeling a rollercoaster of intense emotions. They may occur immediately, or you may have a delayed reaction weeks or months later. Common reactions include:
• The sense that you have lost a part of yourself.
• Overwhelming sadness and fear.
• Anger that you can’t even find the person you once were before the trauma
• Fear and uncertainty if you will ever feel safe and secure again.
• Consuming shame, self-blame and “what if…” repetitive thinking.
• Anxiety that others would never believe you, especially if your attacker is someone well-known and respected.
Regardless of your emotional reaction and feelings, you are not “wrong” for anything you are feeling, and you certainly aren’t to blame! Beginning with my experience as a rape counselor at the UCLA/Santa Monica hospital, I have worked extensively with sexual assault survivors. I am highly experienced in addressing your trauma, helping you cope with its devastating impact and help you to recover. The trauma is not the sum-total of what defines you, nor does it have to limit your life. There is hope for healing.
Child Abuse and Neglect: “Cumulative/Developmental Trauma”
Child abuse and neglect takes many forms. Many children, both boys and girls, are victims of sexual abuse. Others experienced emotional abuse or neglect, which can include degrading the child, humiliating him/her in front of others, socially isolating the child and threatening the child with abandonment. Many people grew up with caregivers who didn’t care for them or who were emotionally unavailable and/or simply disinterested, which leaves deep emotional scars. Children also suffer physical abuse, and many others are deeply traumatized by witnessing violence in their homes and neighborhoods. Child abuse, in all of its forms, is way too much for a tender mind of a child and adolescent to bear.
The Impact of Abuse and Neglect Doesn’t End When the Abuse Stops!
Regardless of the trauma(s) you experienced as a child, you likely felt powerless, alone and that you were somehow to blame. But, it was not your fault. Many of the difficulties you might be struggling with now, as an adult, are natural “survival extensions” of coping mechanisms you developed as a child in order to survive your trauma. Though they were once quite useful, now they can gradually begin to have a negative impact on your life. You may be experiencing:
• A greater vulnerability toward depression and anxiety.
• A compromised capacity to effectively deal with subsequent losses and stress.
• Emotional shut down (“psyche numbing”) to block intense emotions or pain.
• Overwhelming feelings of despair and a pessimistic outlook about life.
• Feeling compelled to please others even at the expense of your best interest.
• Hyper-sensitivity to the belief that things are your fault.
• Greater concern with the needs of others than your own needs and feelings.
• Efforts to avoid intimacy and deep connections.
• A bottomless “pit” of emotional needs.
• High anxiety about potential rejection and abandonment.
If You Feel Haunted by Trauma, You Are Not Alone! You Can Heal.
Whether you are experiencing some or all of these challenges, getting help is critical to your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. The trauma of your childhood does not need to shape the rest of your life, nor does it have to affect your relationship with your children. As humans, though we are vulnerable to get hurt and wounded, we are also wired for healing and recovery. There is hope for healing. Trauma therapy can help you to:
• Restore hope.
• Feel able to talk about the abuse, perhaps for the first time.
• Overcome self-blame and shame.
• Work through feelings of helplessness and despair.
• Find relief from anxiety, depression and fears of abandonment.
• Recover your self-esteem and confidence.
• Address unhealthy behaviors that have outlived their original survival purpose.
• Reconnect to your healthy and natural bodily sensations.
• Build your emotional resilience and trust.
Throughout the last 25 years, following my work at the National Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline in Los Angeles, I have worked extensively with trauma victims. Regardless of the form(s) of abuse and trauma you have suffered, you don’t have to struggle with its long-lasting effects alone.
I Really Don’t Know if I Want to Talk About It. It’s Too Upsetting.
Many people feel that they rather not talk about their traumatic experiences. You may have heard others – or even your own inner voice – say: “just move on,” or “let go,” But, try as hard as you may, you can’t really forget, or just “get over” what happened to you. On the contrary, unresolved feelings and fears can hold you back, creating limitations that keep you from being able to have greater freedom to live your life. Getting support and learning to trust others is a crucial step in the healing process. Doing so challenges one of the harmful, lingering distortions arising from trauma and abuse: namely, that people are untrustworthy and even dangerous.
Trauma therapy provides a safe, private place where you can deal with your trauma at your own pace. It’s important to remember that the history of your early trauma is not your whole story. Your past traumatic experiences don’t have to rule your present life nor limit your future! You can heal!
Whether you only thinking about addressing your trauma and its painful impact, or you feel ready to start the healing process, please feel free to contact me me. I am happy to answer any questions you have about trauma therapy and my practice.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story within you.” – Maya Angelou