Trauma Therapy: Choosing Change for a Change You Didn’t Choose
Traumatizing experiences make us question our safety, trust in others, and even worse… ourselves. These events place us in hyper-aroused states of survival that are designed to protect us in the moment, it’s survival mode. Survival mode is necessary. It is designed to save us, but it is not meant to be lived in. But this is where trauma can place us, and leaves us. Trauma can take us from our lives, everything we know, everything we are, and leave us lost in the woods of the unknown. Here, in these woods we are left to survive. And in these woods, it is dark, unfamiliar, and we often don’t recognize ourselves because of the trauma we have endured.
Being uncertain of ourselves, decision-making can be difficult. But when we stay living in survival mode, it is challenging to navigate because our ability to function has been physically changed. Our brains continue to operate at hyper-aroused states, which we are not intended to be in for long periods. In doing so, it hinders the brain’s ability to operate for our daily needs and can actually cause harm to our brain health and use.
During trauma, the amygdala, which is responsible for emotions and actions driven by survival needs, has been shown to become enlarged due to fear. In turn, the amygdala will be hypersensitive to threats and overreactive. The hippocampus, the part of our brain responsible for memories, has been found unable to convert short-term memories to long-term memories. The hippocampus was even shown to shrink in size due to the effects of trauma. Through healing, the amygdala and hippocampus were shown to return back to desired size and functioning (Rosenthal, 2013).
The prefrontal cortex is responsible for processing, storing memories, recall, instincts, emotions and language. Due to trauma, it was found that the prefrontal cortex cannot stop inappropriate reaction or refocus attention. Research found trauma effects caused increased blood flow to the right prefrontal lobe, increasing feelings of sorrow, sadness and anger. With decreases of blood flow to the left prefrontal lobe, there is less ability for language and memory (Rosenthal, 2013).
Trauma has physical effects on the functioning of our brain, that consequently affect our ability to live our lives to the standard in which we did prior to the traumatic experience. The trauma effects compound when considering emotional and mental impact, and the rippling effects on our lives.
Trauma shows itself in various forms, whether it’s bullying, abuse, addictions, poverty, wars, relationships or various experiences. Trauma is subjective, defined by the survivor. The common experience for survivors is the overwhelming emotions and sense of helplessness. Trauma’s impact is just as diverse as its source.
Three theories offer an explanation into the etiology of some trauma effects. Social-cognitive theory suggests that the trauma disrupts our previously held beliefs, and internally we are conflicted with the new trauma information which differs from our existing beliefs. This confusion leaves us living in internal turmoil, causing instability and a sense restlessness and insecurity in ourselves. Conditioning theory explains that as a result from the trauma, we have more fear associated with certain stimuli. As a consequence, we evade the stimuli. This may place us in states of hyper-arousal and avoidance. The third theory, dual-representation, causes memories to be brought back in involuntary flashbacks, triggered by situational reminders. Uncontrollable flashbacks can leave us feeling tense and insecure in our surroundings (Bosmans, 2015).
The stimuli and flashbacks that evoke overly emotional reactions can be known as triggers. Triggers can be any type of stimulus, a sound, smell, sight, taste, feeling, thought, or sensation that reminds you of the trauma. People can find themselves with intrusive memories of the events (hypernesia) or avoidance of the thoughts and feelings about the event (amnesia). In this, the trauma holds us captive, as if to retraumatize (Giller, 1999).
n even reading the word trigger what did you notice? Was there a sudden discomfort? An overwhelming sadness? Did you feel hot, or angry or want to stop reading? Did you smell an all too familiar smell that took you to a place you have tried to forget? Just the word trigger or trauma can elicit our senses related to our traumatic memories.
Trauma, its triggers and its impact is all personal, and therefore so is therapy. Time in therapy is spent understanding the impact your trauma has had on you and your life. It is taking the time to assess your personal needs and goals for your wellness. You will have the opportunity to address origins of beliefs and self-care, learn coping skills, de-sensitize to triggers, seek closure, set goals, find your truth and healing for you.
The idea of therapy, reliving your trauma and confronting the issues you have spent so much energy to distance yourself from can be emotionally stimulating. But reading this article, taking in the information, and being with the thoughts and feelings that arise is already a step into your wellness. You may have already experienced your trauma, or are currently enduring trauma. But you don’t have to live your trauma alone. Let us help you take your first step out of the woods. Together we can see the sun shine, look back and see the forest for the trees.
“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you do choose.”
Bosman, M. (2015). Trauma-related coping self-efficacy: Measurement, predictors and interplay with posttraumatic stress symptoms. Ridderprint BV, 1-219. (Doctoral thesis)
Giller, E. (1999). What is psychological trauma? Retrieved from https://www.sidran.org/resources/for-survivors-and-loved-ones/what-is-psychological-trauma/
Rosenthal, M. (2013). Three ways trauma affects your brain. Retrieved from http://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/traumaptsdblog/2013/11/27/three-ways-trauma-affects-your-brain/
Tags: amygdala triggered, trauma
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Provisional Licensed Mental Health Practitioner
- Chrissy is a Provisionally Licensed Mental Health Practitioner. She graduated with her Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health from the University of Nebraska at Kearney in July 2016. She completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from Hastings College in May 2010. Chrissy did her internship at Wholeness Healing Center prior to joining the team full time, in September of 2016. Chrissy works in the Grand Island office.
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