Transforming Trauma - a guide to what it is and how to move forward

SO MANY in the world have experienced trauma, they just don’t realise it.

For many people, the word trauma translates to tragedy. They perceive the experience of trauma to be associated with dramatic, often adverse events and circumstances such as death, violence, and war. However, in this perception what is lost is an understanding (a true understanding) of trauma that relates to everybody, and may just be the key to healing addictions, correct disordered behaviour, reduce anger, minimise anxiety and provide greater personal freedom for humans. Yes, humans… all of them.

As explained by Gabor Mate in the article Why are so many adults haunted by trauma, Mate separates trauma from dramatic events. He explains that trauma at its core is related to whether human needs are met or not. He highlights that if human needs are not met by both the family and society, people – a lot of them – will be affected in adverse ways.

Mate believes that most of the population will have experienced adversity in some way and that the essence of trauma is simply disconnection from ourselves. He says “Trauma is not terrible things that happen from the other side—those are traumatic. But the trauma is that very separation from the body and emotions. So, the real question is, “How did we get separated and how do we reconnect?”

The outcome of trauma can present in many ways from addiction both in the negative such as drugs and alcohol, sugar or sex and the perceived positive such as exercise or work. It can present in people as unhealthy relationship patterns, consistent anger, aggression or people-pleasing. It may be physical showing up as obesity and weight issues, illness or injury. Eating disorders, perfectionism, over-achieving, low self-esteem, hormonal issues… the outcomes are endless; however, the cause is consistent.

For many people, the root of trauma may be what is perceived as one rather insignificant event or cumulative events from their early childhood. It may be minimalised because its common these days e.g. divorce or school bullying, however from the ages of birth to six years old if the primary needs of a child – physically, emotionally, psychologically and environmentally – are not met, or are perceived in the young mind of that child to not be met, they are in that moment experiencing a trauma and or anchoring or “storing” a distorted belief about themselves, others, the world/ life that will negatively impact them moving forward.

It may present as a fear or at least an uncomfortable response from the body and thus the child will look to disconnect from that sensation. What often follows is behavioural patterns and actions designed to ensure that they never have to experience that feeling again.

Teenage years are another key period of life that may create “trauma experiences” that mould a person’s personal belief system and values thus fuelling certain ongoing behavioural patterns and actions. From bullying to pressure to perform, there is a plethora of circumstances that if perceived in a negative and fear-inducing manner will create a trauma response in the body. The more events that are experienced the stronger the response and the more likely that the individual will seek solace in external stimuli.

Recognising your personal trauma and identifying events either singular or culminative that have influenced the conclusion that you have come to about yourself is the first step in healing.

There are numerous paths to unlocking hidden trauma that drives disordered behaviour. From acupuncture to equine and somatic therapies, talking therapy, nutritional therapy and physical detox and rehabilitation.

The first step however is to identify and own the fact that you have experienced trauma, do not minimise it and then begin the work, move into solution mode and give yourself permission to heal. The key to successfully working through repressed trauma is to separate yourself from any diagnosis and simply work through any symptoms you experience with a “that’s interesting” mindset.

Recognise your symptoms – see your disordered behaviour as a road sign to a new destination and leave it there. Do not become the symptom, do not identify with it – it is not who you are, it just is and when you can separate yourself from the story of your symptoms you are empowered to move forward.

The journey to recognising and healing repressed trauma is different for everybody. How your trauma presents in your life and your openness to work through it will dictate the right path for you to start down, however, what is guaranteed is that no matter what path you walk if you keep going step by step the light at the end of the tunnel is freedom.

When we choose to heal our personal trauma, we choose freedom. Freedom from distortion; freedom from remuneration that undermines our own ability to thrive; freedom from our symptoms, our patterns, our shackles.

Trauma can mean different things to different people, however, if you are looking to heal aspects of yourself and your life, reflecting back on your life with a renewed lens may be the first starting point. For some people speaking to someone else about their past experiences may be the best way to address recurring challenges.

Therapy is to the psyche what exercise is to the body.

As a result of popular culture, it can be thought especially by men that therapy is self-indulgent, or something reserved for people going through a high drama crisis, victims. It is this stigma/belief that keeps so many people living a life filled with symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Therapy is not a process of just “rehashing drama.” First and foremost, it is an opportunity to understand who you are and why you do what you do. It can be when working with the right therapist the opportunity to view the events of your life without having to delve into the pain of those events giving you the perception and understanding to see how these events have shaped you – your beliefs, your personality, your actions, and outcomes. And with this understanding you are then in a place of power, you are in the driver’s seat and can choose how you move forward and who you become from there.