'Trauma' has become a term that is often used in society today. It may be so often used that it loses it's impact and meaning. So, how do we define trauma anyways? What even is it? Trauma is not always easily identifiable because our society paints drastic and extreme pictures of what trauma is and thereby blurs the difference between what is a 'traumatic experience' and what we as therapists work with as 'trauma'. Traumatic experiences can happen across the life span, at different stages of development and times of our lives. They can be one time experiences or a string of events recurring over time. They can happen at any point from utero through adulthood. The timing of these overwhelming experiences is important because if we live through distress at very young ages (especially 0-7yrs old) our entire brain and nervous system adapt to the deficit and this becomes our 'norm'. We learn to attune to others vs our own experience and thus, as Stephen Porges states, 'trauma is a chronic disruption of connection'.
There are various terms we use in therapy to define our experience. I'll give you a quick run down, these topics are dense and there is a great deal of literature on each term so please take this as a very brief primer. Developmental trauma is a term used to describe overwhelming events experienced during early childhood (this is the work of Dr. Bruce Perry and many others). Because our memory is not formed until 18mos+, the very earliest of experience is not encoded in a linear fashion but is encoded as sensations in the body. Complex trauma refers to when our care takers were the source of harm. Relational trauma is another term used to describe being harmed by another person and how it may contribute to a lack of a felt sense of safety with others. If we were ever abused or neglected, in our childhoods or partnerships, we've experienced relational harm. Shock trauma generally refers to single case incidents, such as a fall, accident or automobile crash. If these falls or accidents are clustered, or repeating, there may be more going on in your developmental history than 'being clumsy'.
I hope you can see some overlap in the terminology: developmental, complex, relational, shock. When we experience overwhelming experiences in early life (developmental), we feel it as a shock to the heart, it is complex in that our caregivers may be the source of harm and it is relational in that another whom we trusted violates our trust. All of this leads to varying states within our nervous system (hyper or hypo states, states of hyper vigilance or obliviousness) and is the work of Peter Levine and Stephen Porges and many others.
In therapy with me, we will look at your early life container and how it may be contributing to your relational life experiences now. We do this slowly and at your pace. We get curious and wonder and explore what it feels like to be you, what is important to you and what gets in the way of you living the life you want to live. The biggest question to ask yourself is what will be different when I am done being in therapy? How will I know? How will I feel?
“Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering.”
- Peter Levine.