What is “Trauma”
What is “Trauma”?
“Trauma” is a word that seems to be showing up everywhere these days. The trend is for mental health organizations and practitioners to claim they specialize in treating trauma. But, what does this mean?
Trauma is like a vortex. It has the power to seemingly transport a person back in time to an overwhelming situation. Traumatic memories are sticky. Even thinking about them can take you right back to all the vividness of the original event. It can feel as if a part of you is stuck in time, during your experience, and with no way out.
Trauma can lead to extremes of retention and forgetting. Terrifying experiences may be remembered with extreme vividness for eternity. But, at the same time, they may feel locked away and inaccessible to conscious awareness.
- Approximately 7% lifetime prevalence of PTSD among adults in the US4
- A sexual assault occurring every 68 seconds (with a child every 9 minutes)5
- 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner3
- Between 1994-2013, there were 6,873 natural disasters, 1.35 million related deaths, and 218 million people negatively affected1
- Approximately 41k people in the US die from gun violence every year (1 million people shot in the past decade)2
- Approximately 1M people have died from COVID-19 (that’s not including all of the non-death challenges that this pandemic has caused)
Our Definition of “Trauma”
According to the American Psychiatric Association, trauma is defined as “an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury or, a threat to the physical integrity of self or others, and which involved fear, helplessness, or horror.” This indeed captures the essence of the big “T” traumatic experiences that form the basis for what is known as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). But, it does not take into consideration the profound impact that little “t” traumas can have as well.
A well-known treatment center out west defines trauma as “anything less than nurturing”, which in our view is much better. It takes into account more than the stereotypical events one might associate with trauma such as combat, rape, or near-death experiences. But what about growing up with a critical parent, a parent with mental illness who is suicidal or can’t get out of bed, bullying, peer rejection, living with constant uncertainty due to a family’s financial struggles, and much more. These are also experiences that deserve clinical attention.
Research shows that these little “t” traumas can cause as much or greater traumatic stress symptoms as their big “T” counterparts. They can create emotional wounds that can have lasting effects on a person’s development and self-esteem, often leading to things such as:
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Abandonment fears
- A pattern of toxic relationships
- And difficulty trusting others
Trauma can come from single, isolated events. This may include events like a car accident, natural disasters such as a hurricane or earthquake, medical injury, or a violent assault.
Chronic, Ongoing Traumatic Stress
Trauma can also come from a prolonged state of heightened emotional arousal. Some examples of this include:
- Growing up in poverty or with financial instability
- Being in a combat zone or prison for any duration of time
- Constant fighting and hostility in a home as a kid
- Dealing with chronic medical issues or illness
- Or having an alcoholic parent or parent who is emotionally unstable or unpredictable
Much focus of trauma treatment is often on acts of commission. But, we cannot forget about acts of omission and the impact neglect has on a child’s development. Every child has an inherent need for attunement, to feel seen, and for their emotional needs to be understood and met by caring, nurturing figures. Without this crucial attention and positive regard, children may grow up wounded and with a profound sense of shame, inadequacy, and aloneness. Remember, it is important to acknowledge what happened to you (the classic example of “trauma”) but also what didn’t happen to you.
Trauma and Core Negative Beliefs
Do you know that you’re good enough but for some reason feel not good enough or inadequate deep inside? Do you rationally know you’re safe but for whatever reason feel unsafe? Does it seem as if danger lurks around the corner at all times? Do you recognize that people around you are trustworthy yet still have a hard time letting your guard down to actually let them in?
These discrepancies between our intellectual understanding and how we feel at a gut level are good indicators that unresolved trauma and emotional wounds from our past exist which can be resolved with effective trauma therapy in Palm Beach County, FL:
- I am not good enough (or I’m inadequate)
- I’m broken or defective
- I’m unlovable
- I am a failure
- I’m shameful
- I don’t belong
- I’m different
- I am helpless
- I’m unsafe (or vulnerable)
- I’m not in control
- I feel weak
- I can’t trust myself or others
Trauma is Cumulative (Backpack Metaphor)
Research shows that repeated exposure to traumatic events can lead to a progressively-increasing sense of reactivity and traumatic-stress symptomology. In short, a person can accumulate layers and layers of “stuff” throughout a lifetime of overwhelming adversity. As a result, it leads to increased symptoms and the need for a more thorough therapy treatment plan.
Consider the following metaphor of a heavy backpack. As a person goes through life they experience an unexpected traumatic event. As a result, they stick the pain into a box, close the lid nice and tight, and shove it in their bag (where hopefully it stays put and out of sight, out of mind). This happens over and over again, new boxes big and small being shoved into their backpack. For many years this person doesn’t really notice the progressively-heavy burden weighing them down, though at some point in time they start to feel more sluggish than usual, have a harder time getting up the hill than before, or maybe their shoulder starts to feel sore. Then one day they add another box to their pack, this time causing everything to spill out. This is when a person often comes into therapy.
How big is your backpack???
Click here to read our blog post on this subject.
Therapy for Trauma
Many clients will come into therapy traumatized and suffering from major post-traumatic stress symptoms. Others will gloss over or invalidate their experiences because they don’t feel they rise to the definition of “trauma.” They may unfairly compare themselves to others whose stories seem more extreme. We find it critical to explore and address all these emotional injuries so clients can experience life free from pain, unsatisfying relationships, and unhealthy patterns of behavior. This may include addressing single traumatic events or a lifetime of psychological injury. Regardless, we at Mangrove Therapy Group are equipped to help.
Click here to see our page on trauma therapy.
Schedule an Appointment with a Trauma Therapist in Palm Beach County, FL at Mangrove Therapy Group
At Mangrove Therapy Group we believe it’s possible for you to get past your past and not be a prisoner to, or be defined by, your trauma. Contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our skilled trauma therapists. To start your therapy journey, please follow these simple steps:
Other Services Offered With Mangrove Therapy Group
Trauma therapy isn’t the only service we offer. Our clinicians are experts in treating trauma and PTSD/C-PTSD, but also in a variety of other issues. These include issues including body image issues, anger management, anxiety, and low self-esteem. We also offer support with addictions such as substance use disorders and processing addictions, eating disorders, “Failure to Launch” syndrome, personality disorders, grief and loss, DBT, CBT, and much more. Feel free to learn more by visiting our blog today.
1. Center for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters. (2015, March). The human cost of natural disasters 2015: a global perspective. Retrieved from https://reliefweb.int/report/world/human-cost-natural-disasters-2015-global-perspective
2. Giffords Law Center. (2022, March). Statistics. Retrieved from https://giffords.org/lawcenter/gun-violence-statistics/
3. National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. (2022, March). Statistics. Retrieved from https://ncadv.org/STATISTICS
4. PTSD: National Center for PTSD. (2007, January 31). Epidemiology of PTSD. Retrieved from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/epidemiological-facts-ptsd.asp
5. Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network. (2022, March). Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.rainn.org/statistics
6. World Health Organization. (2017, November). Violence against women. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women