Understanding Trauma and How It Affects You
Trauma is a horrible thing! Think of the #MeToo Movement and all of the women involved who for years did not have a voice and thus were not able to heal from what happened to them. Yet trauma and sexual abuse are not just a women’s issue. Men also have been sexually violated. Truly healing from trauma begins with understanding more about what it is.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is my reaction to something that is happening to me or around me. I may be the only person reacting to what is happening in the moment. Trauma is about me and my reaction.
Types of trauma
There are different types of trauma. Trauma may be overt, meaning it is obvious; or it may be covert, meaning it is subtle and not always obvious even to the person being traumatized. Trauma can also vary in size. It can be a little trauma (little t), meaning it was not big and not a huge deal, although it did affect me. And then there is big trauma (big T) and it did really affect me. A big trauma might be a car accident, war, natural disaster, assault, sexual assault, or something else. Trauma is not always a one-time event; it can also be chronic, meaning that it has happened repeatedly over time. Chronic trauma could be a series of little t’s. Chronic trauma can be just as damaging as a big T.
Ways we react to trauma
A person can react to trauma in many different ways. We respond in ways very much like the animals of this world. This includes flight, fight, freeze, submit, and cry.
The flight response to trauma is leaving what is going on, not wanting to be in the situation. Usually, it is a flight into addictions—substance use, sex, pornography, gambling, overspending, gaming, disordered eating, and something else. This behavior becomes an escape from engaging in life. In this case, the addiction is just a way of dealing with the emotions from trauma.
The fight response to trauma is when one wants to fight. This can be an outward fight with others—rage, physical assault, physical battering, sexual assault, rape, or other aggressive behavior. This can also be an inward fight with your emotions—with yourself—and involve self-harm and possibly suicide.
Freezing in response to trauma is not being able to move. There may be anxiety and fear associated with such a response. This is frequently what happens to young children when there is nothing else they can do. It may be what happens to a woman who is not able to say “No” and make sure that her “No” is actually heard and not challenged or ignored.
Submit is accepting what happens in the moment. For a child, this may be the only option. If not processed, this response to trauma can lead to a collapse of the spine (the spine not being straight and erect) and depression.
The cry is the voicing of one’s concern, usually being loud, though it can take many forms. Think of birds that squawk about their displeasure over how they are being treated by another bird or animal.
My current reaction
In the moment when I am getting frustrated, angry, or reacting in some other way, it is often my subconscious bringing up something from the past. I am reliving the past in this moment, though I probably do not realize that my past is currently driving me. This is how unresolved trauma keeps us stuck in the same way of doing things and prevents us from moving forward in life.
I may be stuck in any of the responses to trauma. It may be an addiction. I keep doing the same thing—perhaps drinking. It gets to the point that I cannot quit and need more of the same thing to get the same sense of relief. I may be in freeze mode and do not want to be involved in life. It may be something else I do to cope.
Another kind of trauma—relational trauma—my unhealthy beliefs about myself
Another kind of trauma is relational trauma…the unhealthy beliefs that I have about myself. What makes this trauma different from the other types is that it may have a developmental component. It happens in relation to others. This type of trauma is usually seen with important attachment relationships we have growing up—with parents or other caregivers—although there may be issues that start later in life. How do you treat others and how do you let others treat you? It needs to be a two-way relationship. Although one may give more for a while, in adult relationships the give-and-take should be equal over time. There needs to be respect without manipulation or control.
Trauma is my reactions to what is happening in my life. The trauma could be little or big, or chronic. My response to trauma might be to fight, flight, submit, freeze, or cry. I might also experience relational trauma, which is the unhealthy beliefs that I have developed about myself. Unresolved trauma drives me in what I do, even though I may not be aware of this. How do you react to trauma? What could you improve or change? What are you willing to change? What will you change?
You can learn more about the author Audrey Tait.
You can learn more about trauma in Reflective Meditations Trilogy: Understanding My Trauma, Healing My Trauma, and Letting Go—Forgiveness.