What is trauma? - Sarah Woodhouse

What is trauma?

Trauma isn’t just about big, scary, events. And it isn’t just about PTSD. Traumatic experiences and outcomes are broad, subjective and apply to all of us in one way or another. Learning about what trauma really is, and how it applies to us, is the first step to moving past our past.

We all carry trauma of one sort or another

Some people’s trauma stem from severe, extreme or unusual experiences. Other people’s stem from common, every day, overlooked experiences. Some trauma grows from one experience, some from the accumulative effect of lots of micro-traumas over time. Yes, experiences like car accidents, war and assault can cause trauma. But so too can relationships, poor parenting and every-day near-misses and falls.


feeling Threatened, overwhelmed & powerless?

A trauma is a perceived threat that overwhelms us and our ability to respond. We perceive the threat as too big for us to handle. The fight, flight, freeze response is switched on (and left on), and this physical reaction interferes with our ability to think.


Because we can’t think in the way we usually do, our memories of the experience aren’t properly processed. This really sits at the heart of what a trauma is. Trauma persists as an unprocessed memory that’s hot, active and easily triggered at a later date.


trauma is an unprocessed memory

When we’re reminded of the perceived threat a day, a week, a month, a year, even ten years later, the unprocessed memory is triggered. It brings with it the same old sensations, thoughts and feelings. We’re literally thrown back to the past, but often have no idea that we’ve been triggered so we’re confused and ashamed. One minute we’re getting along just fine, the next we’re feeling a ton of uncomfortable old stuff.

Common symptoms of trauma

  • Difficult physical sensations (e.g., heart racing, feeling spacey and out-of-body, being easily startled, anxiety)
  • Stuck in an emotion (e.g., fear, shame, anger)
  • Memory symptoms (e.g., old negative thoughts or memories suddenly popping into your head)
  • Negative thinking (e.g., I am broken, I am not good enough, I am to blame)

trauma causes us to disconnect from our self and others

Some people have many of these symptoms (i.e., PTSD). Other people have fewer symptoms that are often overlooked. People live with these symptoms and try to manage them, but over time become stuck in dysfunctional coping (e.g., over-eating, anxiety, alcohol, people pleasing, avoidance, over working, compulsive spending, under-eating, etc). The traumatic coping, and the trauma symptoms, disconnect us from our self, others and the world. 


facing your trauma can help you overcome it

We live with the symptoms because we’re unaware that they relate to our own past traumas and because we’re unaware that we can break free. Life without constantly being thrown backwards into old stuff, is spontaneous and joyful. We re-connect with our self and reclaim our life. I’ve done it, and so can you.


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