Life. It can be beautiful and exciting and joyful and breathtaking. But it can also be dark, full of brokenness, hurt, and pain. We know this all too well. It was not always supposed to be this way.When God created the world in Genesis 1-2, he created it “good,” and after mankind, “very good.” But when Adam and Eve chose to sin in chapter 3, everything changed. What was whole became broken, and pain entered.
And even after the death and resurrection of Jesus that redeemed us from sin, pain still exists. And it will continue to exist on this side of eternity. One of the biggest forms of this pain that we can experience is trauma.
Trauma has become a buzzword in modern society, but there is good reason for that. Its prevalence and effects on individuals, families, and societies cannot be ignored.
“In the United States, 61 percent of men and 51 percent of women report exposure to at least one lifetime traumatic event, and 90 percent of clients in public behavioral health care settings have experienced trauma. If trauma goes unaddressed, people with mental illnesses and addictions will have poor physical health outcomes and ignoring trauma can hinder recovery. To ensure the best possible health outcomes, all care — in all health settings — must address trauma in a safe and sensitive way.”1
“. . . One in five Americans was sexually molested as a child; one in four beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on their body, and one in three couples engaged in physical violence. A quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one out of eight witnessed their mother being beaten or hit.”2
Some call it a public health crisis because it has been shown to lead to many problems that can not only affect the individual that has experienced the trauma, but also others around the individual, too. It is essential for everyone to pay attention, to be aware, and to educate themselves on this issue. That is the first step in making lasting change and moving toward healing.
If we are going to talk about it, we need to define it. There are a few ways that it can be defined.
- “Trauma, by definition, is unbearable and intolerable.”3
- “Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective circumstances that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.”4
Little “t” versus Big “T” Trauma
- Big “T” trauma: This includes major traumatic experiences that can often lead to mental health diagnoses like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Complex-PTSD, DID, and others. These could include different forms of abuse, combat/war, natural disasters or catastrophic events.
- Little “t” trauma: This includes less intense traumatic experiences that could lead to mental health issues but are often overlooked. These could be things like divorce, interpersonal conflict, transitions, financial problems, infidelity or forms of betrayal, and bullying, to name a few. These are more commonplace occurrences but can still greatly affect an individual.
Types of Traumatic Experiences
The effects of a traumatic experience greatly depend on the individual, his or her environment, biological makeup, and other life experiences. If one develops mental illness as a result of his or her trauma, it in no way indicates they are weaker or less spiritual than someone who may not be as affected.
These are the main types of traumatic experiences as described by the Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation at Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development (see website for detailed descriptions of each):
- Sexual abuse or assault
- Physical abuse or assault
- Emotional abuse or psychological maltreatment
- Serious accident or illness
- Serious or intrusive medical procedure
- Victim/witness of domestic violence
- Victim/witness of community violence
- School violence
- Natural or manmade disasters
- Forced displacement
- Political violence
- Victim/witness of extreme interpersonal violence
- Traumatic grief/separation
- System-induced trauma5
Some other traumatic experience examples could include:
- Living with/being in a relationship with someone with a severe mental illness
- An unstable/ unsafe living environment
- Severe discrimination or prejudice
- Spiritual abuse
- Breakups, loss of relationships, and other forms of loss (loss of a pet, job, etc.)
A traumatic experience can occur in different ways:
- One-time Events: These are experiences that only happen once. They can be a big “T” event or a little “t” event.
- Chronic/Reoccurring Events: These are experiences that occur repeatedly over time.
Symptoms of TraumaTrauma will affect each person uniquely, and there is a wide range of responses and symptoms. Sometimes it may seem hopeless to be able to heal from a traumatic experience. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is not the end. There is hope; there can be healing. However, it is crucial to be aware of your trauma and its effects on your personal health, spiritual health, mental health, emotional health, and physical health.
Some of the common symptoms/responses (short-term and long-term) include:
Emotional and Psychological Symptoms:
- Withdrawal from others
- Traumatic Stress
- Problems with attachments in relationships
- Numbness or denial
- Concentration/memory problems/confusion
- Guilt or shame
- Negative self-concept
- Anger or irritability
- Mood swings
- Lack of self-awareness
- Addictive behaviors
- Inability to relax/ tension
- Unexplained aches and pains
- Sexual issues
- Insomnia or nightmares
- Unexplained fatigue
- Serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, autoimmune diseases, and others6
Types of Treatment and Paths to Recovery
Each therapist will provide trauma-informed treatment in a unique way, and it is very important to find a therapist that is right for you. Though the treatments used are a vital part of recovery, it is more important that you find a therapist whom you can trust, who feels safe, and who has a history of good work.
It takes a lot of courage to seek help for issues like these, but that is the first step. It takes even more courage to walk through a healing journey with someone because the road can be difficult and long. But it is always worth it in the end.
Here are some examples of treatment options available to you if you have experienced traumatic experiences:
- Evidence-based therapies
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy
- Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness practices
- Trauma-focused CBT
- Trauma-informed Yoga or other somatic experiences
- Psychotropic Medications (do not “cure” trauma, only help alleviate some symptoms temporarily)
When to Seek HelpThere are some people who have been able to work through their traumatic experience successfully on their own, but if you are experiencing any of those symptoms, it is wise to seek professional help.
Of course, healthy relationships, good community, and strong faith are foundational in handling these symptoms, but it is good and wise to consider seeking professional treatment to be able to work through your experience in a deeper, more thorough way that can lead to long-term recovery.
It can feel challenging to admit that you need help to be able to deal with the trauma you have been through, especially if that trauma induced shame or is the root cause for unhealthy patterns you have developed. But if you do not seek help, it could be a long-lasting issue that builds in intensity over time, like a volcano. Eventually, it will erupt and continue to cause damage.
It is said that the best way out is to. Though the facts about trauma are grim, the hope is that it does not have to rule your life. It is forever a part of your story, no matter how “little” or “big” it is, and you may experience many of those symptoms for years to come.
However, it can become the part that not only brings hope to you, but also to others. It can bring light and healing and forgiveness. So why not go on a hunt for that healing? Why not dive deep and share your story with someone that can help hunt with you? Why not open your heart to go on a tough, but truly rewarding journey?
Maybe it is time. Maybe it is time to find a close friend to whom you can tell your story.
- Tell someone about the car accident that led to a constant fear of driving.
- Tell about the sexual abuse you endured as a child.
- Talk about your parents’ divorce or that big move that forever changed you.
- Talk about the loss of your favorite pet.
- Talk about your experience in the war.
It is time. It is time to surround yourself with a good community and meet with a spiritual mentor. And maybe it is time to seek out professional treatment so that you can truly move through your traumatic experiences and come out as a more healthy, whole person. Your story matters. It is time to share it.
2Van der Kolk, B. The Body Keeps the Score, 2014.
3Van der Kolk, B. The Body Keeps the Score, 2014.
4From HelpGuide: Your trusted guide to mental health & wellness. Retrieved on August 7, 2019. <https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/coping-with-emotional-and-psychological-trauma.htm>.
5Types of Traumatic Experiences. Center for Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation, Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development. Retrieved on August 7, 2019. <https://www.ecmhc.org/tutorials/trauma/mod1_3.html> .
6From HelpGuide: Your trusted guide to mental health & wellness. Retrieved on August 7, 2019. <https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/coping-with-emotional-and-psychological-trauma.htm>.
“Reaching Out”, Courtesy of Youssef Naddam, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Difficult Roads”, Courtesy of Hello I’m Nik, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pensive”, Courtesy of Danielle MacInnes, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Stressed”, Courtesy of Nik Shuuliahin, Unsplash.com, CC0 License