Monday, June 20, 2011

What is trauma?

Trauma is often defined in terms of little t trauma and big T trauma, or soft and hard trauma. This definition of trauma is event dependent. It is looking from the outside in, instead of from the inside out. In my experience it is not the event itself that is significant in terms of defining what is traumatic, but how we experienced and resolved the event or events. Trauma is an individual experience and how we respond and resolve it, is unique to us, our situation, our age and available resources. Any experience that remains unresolved or unexperienced can lead to trauma.

Trauma is in the nervous system, not the event ~ Peter Levine

There are many ways an experience can remain unresolved. If we have ever felt helpless, powerless or like our survival was at stake, then the experience, whatever it was, was potentially traumatic for us. We can be deeply hurt and wounded (the word trauma comes from Greek and literally means wound), physically, sexually and psychologically, by something or someone and if we can't process the hurt, trauma can result. If we freeze and are unable, for whatever reason, to discharge the freeze response this also creates trauma in our system. The traumatic experience can then be triggered or re-enacted over and over again until resolution is found. If subsequent freeze responses are not discharged and compounded pain is not resolved, an enormous strain is put on our system and our resilience becomes severely depleted.

One of the most devastating and insidious traumas is the ongoing experience of feeling unloved and unwanted, which usually starts in the womb. When a baby feels unloved and unwanted, it can be experienced as a real threat to their survival and can result in feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. The wounds of feeling unloved go very deep and often remain unexperienced or frozen just because they are so unbearably painful. The imprint of these wounds will be played out and re-enacted in all sorts of different ways in order to resolve them. We're always looking for resolution, we need resolution.

If the essential need for love is not met, babies learn to mistrust and deny all of their needs, because if they are not worthy of being loved, they are not worthy of having their needs met. When traumatic imprints are laid down as early as our time in the womb, freezing can often become the habitual response when we feel threatened later in life because of lowered resilience. Our threshold to assimilate life's stresses is affected by unresolved trauma, we become hyper vigilant, feel unsafe, we dissociate, feel anxious and depressed, we do whatever helps us to sedate and keep our pain repressed.

Trauma: unexperienced experience ~ Ivor Browne


trisha said...

beautiful and true explanation noreen. those who have been through it will realize the depth of your words.

lots of love.

Noreen Barron said...

Thanks Trisha, that means a lot, Lots of love to you too xxxx

chiccoreal said...

Dear Noreen: Wonderful article! This makes total sense! It would be interesting to find how many babies have "disassociated" in the womb, how this happens, and how can it be remedied. Can tapping help persons of such trauma? So love could be a vibrational "tapping" to promote rebirthing experience as per Dr. Arthur Janov (Primal Scream) etc?

Noreen Barron said...

Dear Jane, thank you :-) There is a lot of information on this subject,I just watched this video earlier by Dr Daniel Siegel "Recreating our past in the present"

Peter Levine's book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma : The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences is excellent and there is also a companion book to go along with it called Healing Trauma with a CD with exercises to get back in touch with our body. When we're dissociated, we're not in our bodies and I often feel that's what healing is, sitting back comfortably into our bodies and feeling good. Robert Scaer, who is a traumatologist also has a great book called The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation and Disease.

And yes, love really is the answer. I love Arthur Janov's work in this area and John Diamond's. I work a lot with trauma and EFT and it's very effective at helping people resolve their pain. I feel feelings are the way to healing, it's crucial to allow all our feelings and connect with our pain. Sweeping them under the "happy" carpet just doesn't work. As Antonio Damasio says, we experience because we have the ability to feel. We'll never heal our traumas if we don't feel them because they remain unexperienced.