Everyone has experienced trauma. Trauma and secondary trauma knows no boundaries and leaves its mark on everyone it touches. It impacts the senses, mind-body connection, and creates negative thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. It shapes and molds us, and creates a new way of understanding the world around us, usually in a negative way. Trauma can be acute (a one-time incident, for example being a victim of a crime), chronic (prolonged exposure to trauma, such as neglect or abuse) or complex (having multiple or many different traumatic situations occur over time).
Secondary trauma often occurs to helping professionals who are exposed to trauma in the workplace through others; hearing stories of trauma over and over again, working directly with trauma survivors, or witnessing traumatic events.
What is Trauma?
Trauma is defined as “an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, n.d).”
It seems there is a lot lacking in the definitions above. The clinical definition cannot define the EMOTION of trauma. Our lives become saturated in emotion after a traumatic experience. Definitions also leave out the EXPERIENCE of trauma. What is the impact of trauma on our mind and body, and how does it effect our senses? What does trauma look like, feel like, and sound like? What is its effect for the coming days and years? What is the story of trauma in your life and in mine?
Trauma creates memories in the mind and body. A person, place, situation, smell, sound or feeling can lead to a flashback of the situation where the trauma is relived. This triggers the body and mind to respond as if the trauma is occurring again. The effect may be very obvious like total panic, freezing in place, or disassociating. Or it can be slight, such as a clenched jaw or tensing of upper body, feeling dread or angry without any provocation.
You may ask yourself, “What do I do when I am feeling this way, feeling panicked, feeling scared, reliving the past?”
What do I do?
You may ask yourself, “what do I do when I am feeling this way, feeling panicked, feeling scared, reliving the past?” If this situation occurs to you, remember to breathe. It is calming to do so. You may also find that you’re holding your breath. Focus on your senses in the current environment. Practice mindfulness and stay in the present. Listen for sounds around you, smell the air and focus on scents. Hold on to something close to you or clasp and unclasp your hands in order to create more body awareness. Scan the area you’re in and remind yourself that you are safe. If you need to physically remove yourself from where you are, then leave. Don’t let guilt, shame, or fear get in your way.
Once you leave and feel more like yourself again, process what happened. Think of the situation and what caused you to be triggered. What thoughts came to mind? What were you believing in that situation? What was the resulting behavior?
Let’s say you are in a grocery store. Someone is standing very close to you in line. You move away and that person moves closer again, crowding your space. This results in you becoming angry, having a racing heart, and feeling like you have to run as far away as possible from the person.
Once you are out of the store and are calm, the first question you should ask yourself is “what did that person being close to me cause me to believe?” The second question would be “what feelings and behaviors did that lead to?” Then “what was another possible scenario/reality of what was occurring and how can I use the truth to perceive my environment differently?”
How to Heal
One key to healing (there are many) is going through the above process over and over again, by identifying triggers, and understanding the thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that develop as a result of the trauma. Repeat the process until it becomes second nature. This is to provide clarity to you.
Over time, you can prepare yourself mentally in order to stop the situation from occurring again, or minimize the trigger and negative mind- body reaction. It is not easy to do on your own, and the process is often filled with negative emotions. Many negative emotions are brought up and past memories can continue to resurface as you are identifying, processing and reframing, so I recommend that you do this work with a therapist.
If you’re interested in learning more, or want to share your story please contact me at my confidential email at Lia@freedlifecounseling.com
#PTSD #trauma #secondarytrauma #panic #relivingmypast #letgoofmypast #emotionalhealing