Trauma, a simple explanation.

Trauma is the result of an overwhelming stress that exceeds one’s ability to cope, or integrate the experience. Complex or big T trauma, is severe trauma, which is most debilitating when it takes place over a long period of time. Examples of complex trauma are: domestic violence, rape, gang violence, war, terrorist attacks, molestation and kidnapping. Little t trauma can be emotional abuse, childhood neglect, less severe accidents, homelessness, bullying, children exposed to drugs and alcohol, or children growing up in the military. All trauma can damage the mind, and the severity varies from person to person. A child with a loving family member, such as a supportive parent or grandparent, could heal from a trauma without lasting damage to the mind. Other in abusive relationships or dysfunctional family systems could have severe damage, such as a psychotic break, acute mental illness, PTSD or addiction. Childhood trauma can be linked to ego states and problems in the present.

Peter Levine, describes how wild animals have a natural response to trauma, that allows them to release the energy with little to no lasting harm. For example, if a deer is stalked by a mountain lion, once they are out of danger, they violently shake for a few seconds, to release the energy of the trauma, and then run off with little harm. When humans are exposed to trauma, they fight, if possible, flee, or freeze, the latter being the most common, as often there is no escape. When trauma is frozen in the body, it is stored in the right hemisphere of the brain in fragmented form, and freezes the integrative processes of the brain. In healing trauma, we can learn to integrate the left and right side of the brain, and learn to move fluidly between instinct, emotion and rational thought, thus releasing the energy of the stored trauma. The theory behind EMDR involves integrating the right and left side of the brain through bilateral stimulation.

Current triggers, and symptoms such as despair, loss of self-esteem, depression and relationship difficulties can be connected to childhood trauma. In addition, more severe PTSD symptoms such as panic attacks, flashbacks, nightmares, ongoing arousal and vigilance of danger, are linked to trauma. Trauma causes synaptic pruning and predisposes people to PTSD. This results in little sense of chronological time, and black and white thinking, with little neutral experience, resulting in the brain geared to traumatic stimuli. Reality, in comparison, is complex and nuanced, in between black and white.

The left hemisphere of the brain has the ability to analyze and categorize arousing information, making sense of our experiences. With PTSD, traumatic experience locked in the right brain, leads to people having difficulty talking about the trauma. They have difficulty utilizing language to gain distance from the offending stimulus. In addition, many children experience trauma before they have learned words.

In learning to identify bodily sensation, we begin to connect with instinct, as with the example of the wild animals. And when integrated and expanded by emotion and cognition, we experience healing. Trauma can be a powerful force for psychological, social and spiritual evolution.

Artwork by Alfarin Safedi

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