What Is Trauma

In today’s world, the word trauma is used regularly. However, it is sometimes taken out of context and exaggerated. For example, some people use the word “traumatic” to describe a deeply unpleasant experience that didn’t leave any physical scars. Dr. Maté told Jay Shetty that “all trauma is stressful, but not all stress is traumatic.”The word trauma has Greek origins and means “wound.” As Dr. Gabor Maté explained, “It’s a psychic wound that leaves a scar. It leaves an imprint in your nervous system, in your body, in your psyche, and then shows up in multiple ways that are not helpful to you later on.”

Since trauma is a wound, whenever someone touches that particular topic, it can cause us to hurt if the trauma is still raw and painful.On the other hand, over time, wounds scar, and the scar tissue that emerges is rigid. This scar can cause a traumatized person to be less flexible, and their emotional growth and development will suffer as a result.

What happened to you can never have “unhappened,” Dr. Maté explained to Jay Shetty. But the good news is that one can heal trauma just like you heal a physical wound. Because, he continued, it is not the event that happened to you but the harm you suffered due to a particular circumstance. And it can be healed at any time.

https://www.jayshetty.me/blog/gabor-mate-and-jay-shetty-on-understanding-trauma

When we started this film, we thought that we were among the lucky ones who had had a happy childhood. We thought that trauma was caused by bad things happening to people; REALLY bad things: war, murder, violence, sexual exploitation… But trauma, as we learned from Dr. Gabor Maté, happens to everybody. Individually and collectively we carry a backlog of pain that has never been heard because we miss narratives to help us share, witness and hold space for each other’s deepest wounds. We hold the vision of a society that can acknowledge the truth about shame and the pain of unmet needs that live quietly but widely among us. Trauma cannot always be conquered, fixed, or resolved, but it can be heard, held and loved. https://drgabormate.com/the-wisdom-of-trauma/

Trauma: Unpacking The “T” Word

Evolution of “Trauma”

Centuries before we understood trauma to be a mental wound, we used “trauma” to refer exclusively to a physical injury. It’s safe to say (and backed up by Google statistics) that general interest in “trauma” has skyrocketed over the past two decades, with searches for “trauma” more than doubling since 2004. Societally, we are seemingly drawn to and interested by our mental woundings, by what has happened to us. If you or a loved one has a copy of The Body Keeps the Score, then you probably know what I’m talking about: as mental health as co-mingled with the wellness industry, we have seen a revolution in what we discuss with our therapists, friends, and even strangers.

What is Trauma?

An easier question, and perhaps more helpful, is to ask what isn’t trauma. What deeply wounds one person (a car accident, a sibling death, a sudden move across the country to a new place) may not affect another person as negatively. And it’s here, in this gray space, that we see a conflict between what “counts” as trauma and what doesn’t. Jay Shetty points out that “the word trauma is used regularly. However, it is sometimes taken out of context and exaggerated.” A breakup may be painful, but not necessarily traumatic. The same goes for any number of difficult situations, from losing a job to being rejected from a graduate program. 

Conversely, we tend to underestimate trauma in our lives. The directors of The Wisdom of Trauma, when reflecting on the creative process, stated “When we started this film, we thought that we were among the lucky ones who had had a happy childhood. We thought that trauma was caused by bad things happening to people; REALLY bad things: war, murder, violence, sexual exploitation… But trauma, as we learned from Dr. Gabor Maté, happens to everybody.” Because we live, we are vulnerable to trauma. 

A helpful framework for considering trauma comes from interpretation studies, which classifies concepts and objects as tangible, intangible, or universal. Universal concepts are experienced by everyone, but experienced differently.  Trauma can therefore be understood as a universal concept, in which it touches all of our lives, much like grief, or love, or hope, but no two people experience said universal concept identically. Because we all have trauma, yet all have our own relationship to trauma, parsing exactly what hurts us and how it can feel murky. 

Surviving with Trauma 

If we all have experienced trauma, we first need to understand how to survive with the pain of what happened to us. And, possibly, we need to understand how to survive with the pain of what is happening to us right now. In my therapy sessions, I describe trauma as “the stuff that sticks.” This definition both helps validate whatever pain my client is feeling and also helps them to realize that the trauma of their past (and/or present) is impacting their lives right now. 

Dr. Gabor Maté explains it a bit differently, saying “[trauma is] a psychic wound that leaves a scar. It leaves an imprint in your nervous system, in your body, in your psyche, and then shows up in multiple ways that are not helpful to you later on.” Again, we can return to the traditional use of “trauma” as an injury, and, like all injuries, trauma can change how we think, feel, and act. 

When we start to recognize our trauma, our “backlog of pain,” we notice all of the symptoms that have shaped our lives. Maybe you struggle with symptoms such as intrusive memories, avoidant tendencies, hopelessness, negative thoughts about yourself, emotional and physical tensing at a myriad of triggers, and/or suicidality. Despite the very serious nature of trauma and the toll it can take on a person, there are ways to cope with and even heal our psychic wounds.  

Living (Well) with Trauma 

Once we acknowledge trauma, we can work on the healing process. The healing process is truly a labor of love, in which we take time to identify our thought patterns, triggers, unconscious thoughts about ourselves, core values, and behavioral tendencies. We can identify unconscious patterns that may lead us to re-traumatize ourselves inadvertently, and instead focus on healthy behaviors. 

The goal of trauma treatment is not to reverse the trauma, or live as if the trauma never occurred, but rather in treating the wound and getting it to a scar tissue stage. 

Instead of seeing ourselves as split by trauma (the pre- and post-trauma selves), we can use therapy and trauma work to integrate the parts of ourselves that are wounded. We can practice vulnerability, both sharing and receiving. We can seek healthy attachments with supportive people. We can act more compassionately, towards ourselves and others. 

We can’t treat wounds we don’t acknowledge. Once we figure out what has wounded us, if we are willing to put in the work with the help of a supportive team, we can begin to live well with our trauma. 

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