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Monday, Feb. 24, 2020

Defining Trauma

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Triggers prompt recall and pain of past experiences

Have you noticed the word “trauma” trending in today’s culture? Whether we see someone refer to this term on social media, hear it in the news or in conversation, we can’t deny that the terms “trauma” or “traumatic” have gained popularity. It is significant that our culture is giving voice to something that is real and experienced by so many people.

It is easy to categorize things such as war or combat, natural disasters, catastrophic accidents, sexual or physical abuse as traumatic. Those types of traumatic events are what we refer to as “Big ‘T’ trauma.” But what about other issues that are emotionally overwhelming and oftentimes debilitating? Events such as divorce, infidelity, difficult parental relationships, sexual neglect, physical neglect, verbal abuse, emotional abuse, addiction, financial instability, legal issues or bullying are what we call “Small ‘T’ trauma.” Often we do not understand how these issues affect us in our daily lives and relationships until we acknowledge that what we have been through is traumatic. Most likely, we all have experienced some degree of this and can relate to the pain, hurt and shame that follows.

The brain is the most complex organ of the body whose most basic function is survival. Our brains have two hemispheres. The left side of the brain controls analytical thinking, language, reasoning and logic, while the right side of the brain controls emotions, imagination, creativity and intuition. Our brains regulate our every thought, feeling, behavior and movement.

As humans, we are continually evaluating our physical and emotional safety. When a person is experiencing major stress or trauma, the brain releases cortisol and norepinephrine, which are both critical for survival. These neurochemicals are part of the brain’s stress response system and can help us respond in one of three ways: fight, flight or freeze. A problem arises when these neurochemicals are continuously released in a person’s brain. This happens when a person is triggered, which is an external or internal stimulus that prompts recall of a previous traumatic experience such as a smell, sight, sound, emotion or body sensation. When we feel triggered, we develop ways of “coping” as a result.

We help our clients cope with trauma and its symptoms. These symptoms may include one or more of the following: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, addiction, numbing behaviors, decreased concentration, insomnia, nightmares, intrusive memories, avoidance behaviors, eating disorders, relational difficulties or feelings of worthlessness. When a person is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, we want to take a deeper look at their behavior and understand how the experience of trauma is impacting his or her belief system.

Our behavior is not random, and there are reasons for what we do. What we believe about ourselves, other people and the world impact our behavior. For example, sometimes it may feel better to overeat or overwork rather than to feel lonely. It may also feel better to abuse drugs or alcohol than to have intrusive memories about an abusive or neglectful family member. As humans, we want to do everything possible to avoid feelings of hurt and pain.

If you are reading this and realize that you or someone you know is experiencing some of these symptoms or issues, you are not alone. Your brain and body are likely reacting as expected, from a biological perspective, to deal with past traumatic experiences. Although it sometimes seems there is no hope, we are here to help show you another way. When meeting with our clients who are experiencing these symptoms, our goal at Clint Davis Counseling & Integrative Wellness is to provide education about trauma and information about how to regulate themselves physically, mentally and emotionally. Most importantly, we want to help our clients make lasting change and experience a better quality of life.

Whitney Voss, M.A., PLPC, CSAT-c, certified sex addiction therapist candidate, EMDR provider. Contact Voss at 318-459-8581; or Clint Davis Counseling & Integrative Wellness, 318-562-6903 www. clintdaviscounseling.com.

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