Trauma, per dictionary.com is
“a body wound or shock produced by sudden physical injury, as from violence or accident”
“an experience that produces psychological injury or pain”.
One of the definitions in the Webster dictionary simply states,
These definitions are trauma in its simplest terms. It’s a starting point of understanding but can leave you still confused and wondering if you’ve experienced trauma. Here are 5 types of trauma that fit these definitions. This in no way is a comprehensive list of trauma types. These are types of trauma I see or find myself explaining and validating for clients that come to see me.
Perhaps this goes without saying. It is a term used in the medical profession on the regular. A small cut is a trauma to your skin. A concussion is a physical trauma to your brain often called a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury). TBI’s are not usually seen but can take a long time to heal and can impact your mental and emotional health.
If you are struggling with mood regulation or have foggy thinking that you can’t seem to overcome and you’ve had a TBI in the last 12-18 months, it may be contributing. Consult your doctor first and foremost. Be sure to tell your counselor about any TBI history. Even if you think it is insignificant or that you’ve healed from it, a TBI is worth mentioning.
Is it fair to say that there can be levels of emotional trauma? Grief is a form of emotional trauma. Grief is normal and grieving after loss is expected. When grief persists and you find yourself stuck in your sadness, it suggests that your brain is struggling with processing the loss. EMDR is one way to help your brain deal with emotional trauma due to grief.
Growing up in a home where one person set the emotional tone for the house and not being allowed to express your own feelings can be emotional trauma too. Especially if you find yourself struggling to identify and express your emotions now as an adult. Emotions can feel uncertain and overwhelming bringing on stress and distrust of yourself.
Losing your sense of self comes from experiencing feedback and/or experiences that make you ignore or distrust your own gut feelings. It can happen over time with someone in your life demeaning you or often making cutting remarks suggesting that you will never be good enough. It might look like a parent or significant other that often told you your perspective was wrong or that you don’t actually feel the way you are expressing or that you are overreacting. Eventually you begin to wonder if they are right and you don’t really trust your own experiences or feelings.
It can also happen with a sudden stressful event that causes you to question everything you thought you knew. This might be discovering your partners affair or getting in a car accident when you know yourself to be a safe driver. The world can suddenly feel uncertain and unsafe leaving you to question everything you see or thought you knew.
Relational trauma is similar to psychological trauma but is specific to relationships. This is not limited to romantic relationship but can also occur in friendships and with family members. It impacts your sense of safety in relationships and trusting that your needs will be met. Often the type of safety we experience with our caregivers as children will influence our sense of safety in our adult relationships. This is often referred to in the literature as ‘attachment’. Generally, if our physical and emotional needs were met by caregivers as children then we learn that the world is a safe place in general and we have the foundation to build confidence in ourselves and in our ability to get our needs met. However, if we did not have caregivers that consistently met our needs then the world can feel uncertain and unstable. You can develop an internal anxiety that puts you on high alert for anytime someone disappoints you or lets you down and it is harder to recover your sense of safety in that relationship.
Betrayal in a relationship is also relational trauma.
As the term suggests, this trauma type is sometimes hard to define. It suggests that there are multiple layers of trauma that have often occurred throughout various stages of development. Complex trauma is associated with people that have experienced childhood abuse or neglect though it is not limited to that. It can also be someone that has experienced a trauma as an adult that they have not been able to recover from before they experience another. Their capacity to handle stressful events is greatly diminished as a result.
It can also be complex because sometimes people brush off their experiences earlier in life as “so long ago that there is no reason for it to continue to bother me”. But yet they know something feels off in them and that the world doesn’t feel quite right. Trauma tends to live in the body and in the psyche even if we think it should be no big deal anymore. It is often layers of several of the trauma types identified in this blog post.
Even if you think your childhood experiences were no big deal, don’t skip over them when talking to a counselor. I have lost track of how many times a client will mention an event from childhood several months into our sessions together that suddenly brings everything into perspective. Sometimes this is just part of the process of counseling and they truthfully had not thought of it until they started doing some work with a counselor. However, if you know, tell. As a counselor, It is much easier to help someone when we have all the puzzle pieces to work with.
Your Experience Matters
Everyone’s experience of trauma is subjective. Everyone’s journey through and recovery from trauma is subjective. You can not compare your story to anyone else’s. There are so many factors that play a role in healing from trauma. We heal in layers and there is a tremendous need to trust the process. But if your experiences have taught you that trusting anything or anyone only results in disappointment and more pain then that is where the work has to begin: trust building, with yourself and with your counselor.
Take your time. Healing is possible.