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You would know if you experienced trauma, right? Well... not so fast.

Updated: Oct 16, 2019

Many people have experienced trauma and have no idea.

Trauma has become a buzz word. It is scary and means something bad has happened. You would know if you experienced trauma, right? Well... not so fast. While many people who seek therapy want to sort out a known trauma, there are also many people who have no idea they've experienced trauma.

What is trauma?

Some people know they have experienced trauma and they have memories of it. Some people have a fleeting, hazy idea that something bad happened to them. However, many fall under a different set of circumstances: prolonged exposure to “minor” and repeated events that they do not consider trauma. Things like being bullied, being berated or repeatedly yelled at by a parent(s) as a child, divorce, or living with a parent, child, or spouse with mental illness and/or a drug/alcohol problem.

People with trauma often experience anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, doubt their judgement, feel isolated, or feel dependent on relationships. People with trauma often have difficulty feeling confident when making decisions and think they are a disappointment. They might feel they won’t live up to expectations or that they're not a good friend or family member. Sometimes people with trauma want to feel in control of their emotions or actions but find it very difficult. They may find they live with regret over things they have done, even though they know they made the right choice.

It’s time to change how we think about trauma.

Major, painful events change our brain to become more vigilant, constantly watching for danger. This can cause people to have a heightened sense of anxiety, to no longer trust their surrounding or other people, or to not feel comfortable in their own body. However, “minor” and repeated events change the brain in the exact same way, although the severity of symptoms may be less intense. Time and time again, people come to my office and find out they are trying to cope with trauma but had no idea. You don’t have to have PTSD to be suffering from trauma; many people with PTSD don’t ever show the “traditional” signs of PTSD.

What to do if you think you may have, or know you have, experienced trauma.

However you feel right now, it typically doesn't get worse once you start addressing issues about trauma. You might feel a wide range of emotions (they might even feel more acute for a little while), but they typically get easier to deal with. It's usually not a walk in the park or pleasant, but there is a certain power when you come to terms with, and process, trauma. Speaking about trauma doesn't have to mean you do anything about it. It might mean you think about how it impacts your life and whether or not you want to seek counseling. If you do want to seek counseling, a licensed therapist who specializes in working with trauma is your best route.

If you live in or near Fairfax, VA, give me a call me. Or, if phones aren't your thing, send me an email. I am happy to setup a 15-minute phone consultation, or you can visit my office located in Old Town Fairfax, VA.