Trauma and trauma

Most people associate trauma with harrowing events like war or a natural disaster. However, any distressing event that falls beyond the scope of normal human experience can be considered traumatic. The term ‘trauma’ originates from the Greek trauma (“wound”). This term can be interpreted in the context of both physical and psychic wounding. Peichl (2007) describes trauma as a toxic condition, a mixture of intense anxiety, absolute helplessness and a loss of control.

There are two main categories of trauma commonly referred to as Big “T” and little “t.” Big “T” traumas are the events most commonly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) including:

1. Serious injury, sexual violence, or life-threatening experiences
2. Threats of serious physical injury, death, or sexual violence can cause intense trauma even if the person is never physically harmed
3. Witnesses to big “T” events or people living and working in close proximity to trauma survivors are also vulnerable to PTSD, especially those who encounter emotional shock on a regular basis like paramedics, therapists, and police officers

Little “t” traumas are highly distressing events that affect individuals on a personal level, but don’t fall into the big “T” category. Examples of little “t” trauma include :

1. Non-life-threatening injuries
4. Conflict with significant others, children, colleagues or boss
5. Infidelity
6. Divorce
8. Bullying or harassment

and many other stressful life events. Big event is not required to experience in the body CNS (Central Nervous System) arousal.

Although little “t” traumas may not meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, these events can be extremely upsetting and cause significant emotional damage, particularly if an individual experiences more than one event or if these traumas occur during important periods of brain development like early childhood and adolescence. Evidence now concludes that repeated exposure to little “t” traumas can cause more emotional harm than exposure to a single big “T” traumatic event.

Failing to address the emotional suffering of any traumatic event may lead to cumulative damage over time. Research from neuroscience, the study of how the brain support mental process; developmental psychology, the study of the impact of adverse experiences on the development of mind and brain, and interpersonal neurobiology, the study of how our behavior influence emotions, biology and mind-set around us has revealed that trauma produces actual physiological changes. The brain’s alarm system recalibrates, stress hormone activity increases, alarm system is “on guard” remains prepared for danger. The Central Nervous System (CNS) gets out of balance and the Autonomic Responses become activated.

The nervous system after trauma.

Chronic hyperarousal – emotional overwhelm, panic, impulsive, hypervigilance, defensiveness, feeling unsafe, reactive, angry, racing thoughts.

Chronic hypoarousal – numb, “dead”, passive, no feelings, no energy, disconnected , shut down, “not there”, ashamed, can’t say No.

These changes in nervous system can explain why traumatized people so often keep repeating the same problems and not learning from their experiences .