Last week, I recorded an amazing podcast with childhood and generational trauma expert Michael Unbroken, and it left me with many questions:
Are we held back by other people's traumas? Are we aware when we take it on? Are we addicted to drama, stress, and trauma? If we do not have a current trauma, do we seek one?
Of course, these are huge questions, and I will not address them all in this post, but I will share some thoughts.
What is Trauma?
When I think of trauma, my brain automatically springs to a physical injury. However, trauma can also be held mentally. Here is a common definition: Trauma can be defined as a psychological, emotional response to an event or experience deeply distressing or disturbing.
The etymology of trauma comes from the Greek word for wound.
Trauma responses can come from any number of causes, such as:
Natural disasters, like a tornado, hurricane, fire, or flood.
Witnessing violence or death inflicted on another person.
Sudden death of a parent or trusted caregiver.
The list can truly go on and on….
Traumatic stress reactions are normal responses to abnormal circumstances. Although the reactions to trauma range in severity, even the most acute reactions are natural responses to dealing with trauma, they are not a sign of psychopathology (1).
In a clinical environment, a person’s particular response “style” isn’t as important as the degree to which their coping mechanisms get in the way of continuing their life as "normal."
In the past, poor psychology practices within group traumas have focused on the group as a whole, not on the individual's style of coping. This is understandable when we see that exposure to trauma leads to a cascade of stress responses and biological changes.
Trauma that is yours
I find it an interesting practice to sit back and analyze which trauma is mine and which is not.
Is your past trauma yours in your current self?
Trauma has many faces. Death, disease, abuse, etc. From an outsiders perspective, we can place traumas on a severity spectrum that makes sense to us; for example, we can assume that a sports injury would be less traumatic to a person than the death of a parent. However, a trauma that may seem minor as an observer could have deep, lasting significance to the person who actually experienced it.
I believe that with the right understanding, therapy and knowledge, almost all traumas can turn into opportunities. Put simply, we do not have to let that terrible thing that happened to us define us as a person. It is not uncommon to witness a person who experienced a traumatic event 20 years ago who still thinks, feels and behaves as if I t just happened yesterday.
Is it really your trauma anymore?
I mentioned many forms of trauma above, and I pose this question:
Just because you have experienced a form of trauma, is it still yours to experience a year later, 5 years, 10 years, etc?
Just as we change biologically over the years, our brain has the ability to create new neuronal connections and literally become new.
Do we want to let go of the identity that we have built around the trauma, or is it easier to stick with it? Over the years, we physically become new. So can we become new in our minds. Is the trauma from childhood yours, or is it bound to an old personality?
Trauma that is NOT yours that you take on anyway
We can all connect with a trauma that is external to ourselves. A friend, family member, minority group or even the planet can cause a person to feel trauma. Why do so many people choose to take this on?
Do we try to fuel our own trauma tank to feel these emotions? Is it an unconscious task to incite blame on others? To have an excuse to feel for someone or something else in order to avoid reflecting on our own lives? People do not easily enter the unknown or unpredictable, yet seek change and difference. After all, the pursuit of what you want forces you into the unknown.
Many of us are addicted to bad news or love gossip about negativity around us. Why?
How can we create practical solutions for the traumas we experience, inherit or accept for others?
For those who cannot do the things they want because of a traumatic event, they have to ask themselves huge questions. Can you put yourself in a position to remind yourself who you no longer want to be and begin to unlearn the past?
This is the process of breaking down the habits that make up you. Before you can create a new personality, you must take active steps to no longer be the old you. Most people who hold on to an old personality have become a combination of unconscious programmed thoughts, feelings and emotions.
We can become a new person biologically, chemically, genetically and neurologically.
If you think about new thoughts, feel new emotions, and exhibit new behaviors, new opportunities will present themselves to you.
People can also slip back into old personalities. This is not a failure, it is an easy slip back into unconscious patterns that resonate with an old personality. You cannot change your personal reality with the same personality bound to your trauma. You have to leave that personality behind to create a new life and a new future.
Simon Brazier. Dip HN, NNCP
Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57.) Chapter 3, Understanding the Impact of Trauma. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191/