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  • Writer's pictureEliza Jade Brown, LCSW

What is trauma?



Trauma develops from lived adversity that was overwhelming and beyond the threshold of what a person had capacity for or was able to process and digest. Trauma is a living process that is stored internally in a person's mind and body that significantly impacts a person's ability to function and thrive. It can manifest as symptoms of chronic anxiety, recurring depression, drastic changes in mood, difficulty being present and regulating attention, persistent difficulties with self-esteem and maintaining healthy behaviors in relationships, overuse of coping strategies to the point of causing harm such as disordered eating, substance abuse, and process addiction with shopping, gambling, media use.


When we consider PTSD or shock trauma, these are big, shocking events such as violence when safety or life was threatened. For complex trauma or known as C-PTSD if PTSD is also present, these events that occurred or co-occurred may have been less shocking and violent yet more pervasive and persistent; such as consistent psychological and emotional wounding by primary caregivers or failures from the environment that were not readily noticed. Often times, people do not recognize their own complex trauma since it became what was normal for them as a child. Usually complex trauma is developmental even when the circumstances that help a person become aware was a later trauma such as a harmful relationship in adulthood.


In order to survive, the human mind and body adapts to these events and circumstances in largely subconscious ways due to the events and circumstances being beyond a person's capacity to consciously experience. Consider a young child that had not yet learned to identify their thoughts and emotions. These adaptations due to them being subconscious tend to be outside of a person's control and can appear as self-sabotage and impulsivity. They also tend to no longer be useful and can even be harmful to a person's ability to function and thrive and can show up as symptoms listed earlier.


Through the process of trauma-informed therapy, clients can consciously process their trauma by bringing cognitive or mind awareness to it, and with the use of a mindful and body aware approach, embody their adaptations to where they are able to have agency or power over them which can lead to symptom reduction and improved quality of life.


Sources: firsthand accounts from patients in clinics and hospitals from 2015-2020, clients in private practice settings from 2020-present, licensed provider consultations 2021-present. Gathered information through The NARM Training Institute, The Complex Trauma Training Center, World Health Organization (WHO), works by Gabor Mate and Bessel van der Kolk


Recommended Books to start:

Healing Developmental Trauma: How Early Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship by Laurence Heller and Aline Lapierre


The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness, and Healing in a Toxic Culture by Gabor Mate with Daniel Mate


The Body Keeps The Score (Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma) by Bessel van der Kolk


It Didn't Start with You: How Inherited Family Trauma Shapes Who We Are and How to End the Cycle by Mark Wolynn


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