What comes to mind when you hear the word ‘trauma’? Or PTSD?

For me, I had always associated these with a war veteran, or someone who had had an obvious, massive, life-changing event.

‘Trauma’ is a bit of a buzzword at the moment, but it’s very real, and very important, and most of us are walking around carrying trauma, without even realising it.

Being trauma-informed means to understand and respond to the impact of trauma on people’s lives. The approach emphasises physical, psychological, and emotional safety for everyone and aims to empower individuals to re-establish control of their lives.

So what does that mean in simple terms? It means to understand when someone is experiencing a trauma response, and to have compassion, and be able to respond correctly. Let me explain a little about trauma and trauma responses.

There are a few types of trauma. The two main types are type 1 and type 2.

Type 1 trauma refers to a single incident which is unexpected and out of the blue. This can also be referred to as big T trauma. Examples include:

  • Rape of sexual assault
  • Traumatic loss
  • Mugging or robbery
  • Car accident
  • Childbirth
  • Military combat incident

The condition related to Type 1 trauma is PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

Type 2 trauma describes trauma which may have been experienced as part of childhood or in early stages of development. It is a repetitive trauma, rather than a one-off incident. Another name for type 2 trauma is complex trauma.
Examples include:

  • Emotional abuse
  • Childhood neglect
  • Abandonment
  • Verbal abuse
  • Domestic abuse
  • Bullying

The condition related to Type 2 trauma is CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder).

We all will experience trauma in our lifetimes. Every one of us. It is unavoidable. That’s not to say everyone will go on to suffer from PTSD/CPTSD. It is how we process and deal with the trauma that determines how much it will affect us.

So what is a trauma response?
The main reponses are fight, flight, freeze and fawn.
When we experience something traumatic or have been exposed to prolonged stress, it causes our brain, the amygdala to go into hyper-alert where we see and feel threats in non-threatening situations.
And we all have them.

Let me give you an example.

A client came to me as she had noticed that the rage she was expressing at her husband was becoming more frequent and less controllable. She said that only with hindsight, she looked back and realised that she ‘always had it in her’ but had managed to suppress it at the beginning of their relationship. Then, for years, had justified the response as he had ‘deserved’ it through his actions, but now, she finally admitted she was flying into a rage over the smallest thing and feeling the gap between them increasing.

This is an example of the ‘fight’ trauma response. In the same situation, others may ‘freeze’ (stay quiet, ignore the problem), ‘flight’ (storm out at the first sign of a disagreement, without communication or listening), or ‘fawn’ (assume the issue is your fault, and attempt to placate your husband by over-pleasing, trying to keep the peace).

The trauma response you are most likely to exhibit depends on your early childhood. If you grew up in a household where real communication didn’t exist, or worse, you had abusive, or neglectful caregivers, you would have adapted to survive. Maybe by ‘fighting’ and shouting, to try to exert or defend yourself. By ‘fawning’ – people pleasing so that everyone else around you won’t be angry at you, etc.

And these responses, unless healed, carry on into our adult lives. And form our personalities and behaviours. Mostly subconsciously.

Bessel Van Der Kolk, in his book ‘The Body Keeps The Score’, makes the bold statement that developmental trauma is ‘the hidden epidemic’ in society.

I believe that if we all became more trauma-informed, and understood people’s behaviours more, we’d have far more compassion, for ourselves and for others.

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