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Understanding trauma and unravelling its impact on our lives


Think of this blog post as Trauma 101, a short but very important conversation on what trauma is, the different kinds of trauma, how it can affect us and how the body holds trauma.

Trauma is something I know, understand and can relate to on such a deep level. I have experienced trauma on many different levels and it has impacted me in so many different ways. There was a period of my life where each year, something big and traumatic would happen in my life. Ranging from being kicked out of home at 14, to having abusive partners, to losing my home in a storm to having traumatic births. It was really one thing after another, so when I say I know trauma, I have a deep and strong connection to it and it’s something I am still navigating now, all these years later. I am still working through trauma from when I was 7 and 14 years old.

The truth is, trauma is a part of being human. We are all going to experience it and as you’ll learn today, trauma doesn’t always mean the big, life-altering, insane to believe experiences, it can also happen on a smaller level.

Let’s start off with a simple and clear definition of trauma…

“Trauma is a person’s emotional response to a distressing experience.”

Now, I want to be really clear that trauma is not about the event that happened. Trauma is the response your body had in relation to the event.

So it is not just about the event that occurred; it is about our response to the event, especially the emotional and physiological impact on the body. Bessel Van Der Kolk says “We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on mind, brain, and body. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive in the present. Trauma results in a fundamental reorganization of the way mind and brain manage perceptions. It changes not only how we think and what we think about, but also our very capacity to think.”

I guess the first place to start here is by mentioning that there are little T traumas and capital T traumas. Capital T traumas are the more severe traumatic event. This could be things such as serious injury, sexual abuse, or life-threatening experiences. Whereas little T traumas are the are still highly distressing and still affect us, but they don’t “seem” as severe. This could be things like emotional abuse, bullying, death of a pet or a breakup.

Both capital and little T traumas are serious and should be healed.

With that in mind, we can also experience trauma in many different ways, and I thought it would be helpful to run through some of them today.

  • There is acute trauma. This is an intense emotional and physiological result of a one-time event and the reaction we experience is usually only lasts a short amount of time. Some examples of this could be a car accident, a natural disaster or a physical assault.

  • There is chronic trauma. This is when we experience repeated and prolonged exposure to distressing events. Some examples of this could include bullying, domestic violence, ongoing abuse or living in a war zone.

  • There is complex trauma. This is when we have been exposed to multiple distressing events. There is usually a sense of being stuck in this place and a lot of the time, a person with complex trauma loses their sense of safety in the world.

  • There is developmental trauma. This type of trauma occurs during an important stage of a person’s life such as childhood.

  • There is secondary trauma. This is when people are continually exposed to other people’s trauma and suffering. It’s most common in first responders, doctors, police officers and people in the mental health field.

  • There is generational trauma. This is when psychological damage has been caused by exposure to a traumatic event or collection of events experienced by previous generations in a family or community. So it gets passed down through us and I know this seems complex to understand, so maybe I’ll do an entire blog post talking about this haha.

  • There is interpersonal trauma. This is when we experience harm from another person, such as emotional, physical or sexual abuse.

  • There is collective trauma. This is when entire communities share an experience of distress or loss. A very clear example of this is in times of war or natural disasters.

  • There is racial trauma. This arises from experiences of discrimination, racism, or cultural oppression.

  • There is medical trauma. This is from experiences related to medical procedures, surgeries, or life-threatening illnesses.

  • There is betrayal trauma. This is the violation of trust by someone close, leading to emotional and psychological distress. A common example of this is cheating whilst in a relationship.

As you can tell, there are a lot of types of trauma and honestly, I can think of a couple more but I think what I’ve ran through today are the most common we experience.

I also wanted to mention that these categories are not mutually exclusive, one traumatic experience could actually fall under a few categories I ran through. and somebody may experience multiple types of trauma throughout their life.

I have experienced multiple types of trauma, and for me personally, I found the most intense and difficult trauma to shift through, which honestly, I’m still working on, is complex trauma. As I mentioned earlier in the episode, I experienced a period of my life where I had traumatic events happen time and time again and that really kept my body in a dysregulated and unsafe state.

My world was not safe for me. Internally and externally felt unsafe because I was alone, literally living alone from 14, I was scared, I was working myself to death to survive and doing whatever I could to feel something, which led to self-harming in many different ways and eventually, trying to take my own life. My world was not safe until much, much later in life after a lot of healing.

Okay let’s take a breath here. There’s been a lot of information and honestly, this stuff can trigger some of us so I do want to just take a moment to do a couple of deep breaths together before we move into some more information.

I also thought it would be helpful to touch on the effects of trauma on us, remembering of course that we are all different and we all experience trauma differently. Some ways trauma can affect us are:

  • Having overwhelming emotions such as fear, anxiety, guilt, shame or sadness

  • Experiencing emotional numbing

  • Having issues with our memory and concentration

  • Developing negative beliefs about ourselves, our worth or the world

  • Avoiding certain situations that may remind us of the event

  • Feeling irritable, hypervigilant and having exaggerated startle responses

  • Physical symptoms such as headaches, gut issues, muscle tension or chronic pain

  • Difficulty sleeping, nightmares or insomnia

  • Difficulties in trusting or being intimate with other people

  • Low self-esteem or self-confidence

  • Loss of meaning of life

  • Forming unhealthy ways of coping such as self-harm, substance abuse or unhealthy relationships

  • Dissociating

  • And of course, mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety or PTSD

Again, I know this is a lot to take in so let’s take another breath, even if you think you don’t need it.

It’s really important to take this information in when you’re in a safe and regulated state because there’s a lot that can come up and the last thing I want to be doing is activating anything for you. So pause reading if you need to and come back later!

A lot of information today, I know! But before I finish this blog post, I did want to touch on how our body stores trauma. I’m sure you’ve all heard of the, The Body Keeps The Score, which by the way, I highly recommend if you’d like to learn more about this, but just know that there is quite a bit of triggering information in there too.

Okay let’s run through a few ways our body holds onto or stores unprocessed trauma. Also, by the way, this is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it’s a great place for us to start today!

Let’s start off with somatic memory. So, we have a somatic memory. Unlike our verbal memory, which involves consciously remembering of facts or events, our somatic memory involves the storage of memories in the body's tissues, nervous system, and muscles.

This can include the physical sensations, such as tension, warmth, or pain, as well as the emotions felt during the event. This is also what usually causes our triggers.

Somatic memories play a hugeeee role in trauma, it contributes to symptoms such as flashbacks, hypervigilance, and the re-experiencing of traumatic events.  This is why a lot of us may feel as though talk therapy isn’t quite enough to heal trauma because it’s only looking at things from a conscious perspective by talking about the surface level stuff, we really need to look at the unconscious and energetics of the trauma too. Somatic trauma therapy helps with this, which by the way, this is the kind of work I do with clients haha, but I’ll get into this more in another post.

Trauma is also stored in our nervous system. This could be an entire blog series to be honest, so I’ll try and keep this concise haha. Trauma dysregulates our nervous system. When we are experiencing a threat or traumatic event, the body activates the "fight, flight, or freeze" response. This biological reaction is controlled by the sympathetic part of the nervous system, which is basically preparing the body to confront the threat or escape from it. This heightened state of dysregulation can then become imprinted in the nervous system if it is experienced for a long period of time, causing years or maybe even decades of dysregulation.

Okay lastly, let’s talk a little about the brain. Again, I want to keep this concise.

The amygdala is the brain area that handles feelings and danger signals. It's really important in making memories, especially those linked to traumatic experiences. When we go through something traumatic, it can make the amygdala super active, making memories more emotional and intense.

Think of the amygdala like a memory boss. It's great at connecting everyday things with traumatic experiences. So, stuff that didn't bother us before can start making us feel really emotional if it's linked to a tough memory. It's like our brain is saying, "Watch out! This might be like that traumatic thing again!"

Now, the hippocampus is another brain helper for memories. It helps turn short-term memories into long-term ones. But, when we go through something traumatic, the hippocampus can struggle. It might make memories jumbled and hard to tell in order. So, our memory of traumatic events might have gaps or mix-ups.

The hippocampus is also a stress referee. It tells the amygdala, "Okay, calm down a bit." But when traumatic events happen, it might not referee as well. This can make our stress reactions kind of chaotic, especially if we've been through trauma.

As I mentioned, there are other ways our body stores trauma, but I know I have shared a lot of information in today’s post so take some time to let it soak in and come back to it time and time again if you need.

Let’s close today’s post with another deep breath in.

If you have felt triggered by any of the information shared today, please reach out to a professional or a loved one for some support.

With love & support,

Shorina | Mindful Soul Collective

Counsellor & Wellbeing Coach



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