Is the word “trauma” being used more often, or have I become more sensitive to it’s use? I have come across it countless times over the years, and this word can call to mind different meanings depending on the use. Physical trauma, psychological, environmental, a “trauma team” or “trauma center”, used in conversation, describing situations as traumatic, or “I think I suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder)”. Most commonly and especially when discussing through therapy, it is an emotional response. The American Psychological Association defines it as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster”. It then goes on to discuss natural reactions to trauma immediately, longer term, and ways to recover or cope. Different from a one-time significant event, like an accident, rape or a natural disaster, trauma can even represent something ongoing, like sexual abuse, or domestic violence.
Foster children who suffered from abuse and/or neglect, families living in a world where there is violence daily, a teenager recovering from date-rape, an adult facing memories of child abuse…almost all of my clients had found some way to claim the abuse as their fault, and while I can tell them they are wrong is one thing, proving it to them is another, much more powerful avenue. I attended a conference last month where they used the term “trauma mind”, as opposed to rational or emotion mind, for example. Trauma mind means decision making, language production, and judgment are impaired. How validating for a survivor to understand, neurologically, that they did not “allow” this trauma to happen! Instead of saying “how could I have allowed this, how come I couldn’t just say no”, they are now saying “so that is why I couldn’t say no and now I am not blaming myself”.
What most survivors of trauma are seeking is safety and change. Most will say they wish they could go back in time and feel the way they did before they experienced trauma, a feeling where they felt they had control, where they were “normal”. When you have experienced trauma, any kind of trauma, and you find hope and control again in your life, you are doing more than surviving. You are coping, you are managing your stress, you are hopeful, you are resilient.
What I find the most rewarding is the resiliency amongst survivors. The way our brain, our nervous system, our memory works to begin to gain control over the trauma and find happiness, find control again. I love to use the word resilient when talking with clients about past traumas. I think of Viktor Frankl and his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” when I hear this word, but I also think of my clients, past and present, who have given true meaning to this word.