The word “trauma” (from the Latin word for a wound, or hurt) is used to describe experiences or situations that are emotionally painful and distressing, and that overwhelm people’s ability to cope.
Trauma is often thought of as referring to events outside the realm of normal human experience such as war, famine, torture or sexual or physical violence. Unfortunately, this definition doesn’t always hold true. Traumatic events can happen to anyone at any time. When I was a child I knew a woman who once received an unexpected electric shock from a faulty iron. Not a pleasant experience by any standards but one which most people would not consider life-changing. Unfortunately it triggered such severe agorophobia that she couldn't leave her home unescorted for several years. Her problems were compounded by everyone around her telling her that "all that had happened" was that she had received a mild electric shock and exhorting her to "pull herself together".
It is not the scale of the traumatic event that matters but its impact on the individual.
The experience of trauma, irrespective of the apparent gravity or seriousness of the event itself, can be utterly debilitating. It can dramatically impair one's ability to function in daily life and it can affect relationships, work, physical and mental health as well as personal development and growth. Each person affected reacts differently, but Trauma can generate a variety of problems including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance misuse, risk taking behaviours, anger management difficulties as well as the now familiar, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder PTSD.
Working through trauma can be scary. People who have experienced trauma often cope through some degree of dissociation. While this was necessary for survival at the time, continued dissociation (especially forms that are not within your control or even your awareness) is unproductive.
For me, the immediate task of therapy, with those suffering the effects of trauma, is to provide a space and a forum which, paradoxical though it may sound, is safe enough for you to allow yourself to feel unsafe. Once this has been established we can work together to help you stay present to your distressing feelings long enough to learn other means of establishing safety in the moment. Bringing trauma memories to mind, talking about them in a trusting relationship, and developingcapacities for managing them are all crucial parts of the healing process.
A word of caution here, however is that working with trauma can be a slow and sometimes painful process. A premature emphasis on traumatic material can do more harm than good. Many peoples may first need to learn and practice a variety of self-care skills which they can then employ during the memory work with the ultimate goal of freeing themselves completely from the grip of their traumatic history.