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  • Writer's pictureLiz Vines

What is Trauma?

Updated: Mar 21

Most of us don't make it through childhood completely unscathed. No parent is perfect and no human body is able to digest everything that is thrown at it. Yet some of us have been left with a bit more to work through. I like to think of trauma as a spectrum. Every experience affects us and leaves some kind of imprint that informs how we show up in the world and who become. At one of the spectrum are experiences that are relatively easy to understand, digest, and integrate into the brain and body. At the other end of the spectrum are events that overwhelm the brain and body so much that processing is incomplete. When we can't fully integrate an experience, we might experience somatic symptoms, a dysregulated nervous system, and/or intense emotional reactions when triggered. When this happens, it is often outside of our conscious awareness, so we might be bombarded with symptoms and not know where they came from or why they are showing up.

You may have experienced an event or two that you feel clearly fit the definition of trauma. Or perhaps you've had more frequent experiences that put you in a moderate state of dysregulation, and over time these have compiled into something that feels bigger. Context is also important. Something might be particularly overwhelming because of a person's age, the amount of support they received, and other concurrent stressors.

It's also important to remember that trauma doesn't have to be something that happened that shouldn't have happened. There can be trauma in the events that should have happened, but didn't. A child who grows up with an emotionally distant parent can experience overwhelm from not having the emotional connection or nurturing support that we humans need to thrive.

Trauma treatment often begins with building an understanding of the connection between symptoms and triggers. When we know why our symptoms show up and what our triggers are, we can begin to feel empowered over an experience that has likely felt incredibly disempowering.


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