Trauma is a popular yet misunderstood phenomenon. Many more people than we know have experienced or will experience it in their lifetimes, but may not recognize it. How we respond to trauma has huge implications for the possibility of tapping into and managing our own resilient qualities. There is certainly a spectrum of severity to trauma like most emotional health challenges. How resilient we learn to become can greatly influence how these traumatic experiences impact our mental health throughout our lifespans.
Unresolved Trauma Can Lead to Future Mental Health Risks
As a therapist who has worked in a variety of settings throughout my career, I have been witness to amazing and resilient recoveries from trauma. We often think that trauma involves only severe abuse (physical,sexual). If we have not sustained any of those, we may not think our own experiences qualify as traumatic. In a huge study, Adverse Childhood Experiences(ACE) were formalized to see the impact of childhood trauma neglect and abuse on later life physical and emotional health. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention(CDC) continues to follow this study and you can visit the site and fill out a questionnaire that can guide you through what your own experiences may have been.
Some of the findings show that 67% of us qualify for, at least, one ACE. The study goes on to show the potentially high risk for future health and well being issues if trauma remains unresolved. It can be difficult to absorb or to have healthy awareness about its impact when we have experienced a trauma. Linda Graham, in her excellent book, Resilience- Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment,Difficulty and Even Disaster, discusses the idea that healthy attachment happens by age 3. She explains that this is true if we are around “…good caregivers with their own healthy brains and well regulated nervous systems.” She also states that about 50% of us are fortunate enough to have healthy attachment. But this leaves 50% of us disadvantaged at an early age.
Mental Health Awareness
Unfortunately, this gets compounded the less aware we are of its impact. We also do not have much say on who our caregivers are and where they got their own training. This is where we see so many clients struggling with abandonment challenges, severe inner critics ( that little voice that judes us inside our heads), anxiety, depression and substance issues. Becoming resilient is not the only thing that can help with these issues but it may just be key in helping to prevent damage or help in recovery or lessen the impact of future emotional health challenges. In other words, we don’t have to be a prisoner of our trauma(s).
We also now know we are not locked into the damage that may have been done to us.
Trauma can impact us at any age. We may have had a beautiful upbringing only to one day suffer the loss of a spouse,parent or child. None of us is necessarily immune from bad things happening. Sometimes, our own particular coping skills that we have used to deal with our trauma experiences may actually be interfering with living a healthier lifestyle. For example do we use substances to quell our anxiety? It is the key to recognize and use better judgement in the management of our responses going forward. In sessions we have seen the light come on for so many people when they are open to deeper insight into their behaviors, thoughts and feelings.
Perhaps you had a harsh caregiver(or sibling) who was overly critical of you. Your inner critic, that little voice inside of all of us that takes us to task, may be highly sensitive which could negatively impact your relationships, your self confidence and possibly increase your substance use. Without support from trusted people in your life and the self awareness and resilience to not give into what your inner critic is saying, life will be much more difficult than it needs to be. We are hardwired to think negatively. Regardless of whether we have experienced trauma or not, we are somewhat at the mercy of our brain’s desire to protect us at all costs. That is why the brain is so quick to trigger our “fight or flight” response. For that we have to be appreciative. However our innate fight or flight system tends to act first and ask questions later.
Trauma, Anxiety and Depression
Think of the time you thought you saw a snake when it was only a stick. We have all probably had that experience. When we have experienced trauma our brains may be extra sensitive to certain things that seem to trigger anxiety or depression in us. We might be hyper vigilant or always on alert or scanning for danger. This can impede our ability to be resilient in the face of stress. The more we come into awareness of the hows, whats and whys of the ways our personal traumas manifest, the better we are at intervening before it can interfere with our daily living activities and relationships with others. This is not easy and takes practice and usually some assistance from a trusted person like a loved one and/or therapist is important. When it does happen, the building blocks for resilience are established and with continued practice of self awareness, can become a reliable resource for the inevitable stress life is sure to bring.
In sessions with clients who have experienced trauma in their lives,these insights have proven to be most helpful in resolving their presenting issues that they bring to counseling.
Rapport and Therapy
It is critical that you have a rapport with your counselor to have the best results in a therapy experience. Rapport is not just that you like the therapist, but that they are helping you gain these valuable insights and perhaps turn them into meaningful action in your life. The relationship is about trust, something that may have been severed at an early age for many of us who had unreliable caregivers (again estimated to be half the population). There are critical life stages we all move through (or don’t) in life. The first is being able to reconcile trust versus mistrust. We will keep growing and evolving, but without trust in our initial caregivers, we may stumble over this issue throughout our lives. Relationships will be compromised without trust as will our self confidence and ability to rise above adversity (resilience!).
When we figure out what makes us tick, we can become our more authentic self. The more we tell our stories to a trusted listener the better we feel. Not to be too reductivet, but these two statements determine the best outcomes in therapy as well as life, I think. Not everyone can attend therapy or even find a therapist they connect with. Not all of us have a trusted person to help us be resilient during tough times. That motivated us to design our classes. They are designed to take a more detailed look into the blog topics with practical advice on how anyone might access the help they need to become more resilient in their own lives, regardless of what you have been through.
Just taking that first step is often the most difficult in this journey and we hope to dispel some of the stereotypes that promote stigma when it comes to seeking help for emotional challenges and overall well being. We hope you’ll consider joining us at resilienceskills4life.com to explore s class that might be right for you. If the subject matter from these blogs intrigues you, reach out to us with your questions and concerns. Our intention is to provide low cost classes to increase access to this marvelous opportunity to tap into your own resilient skills and develop some new ones as well!
Resiliently reporting, all the best,Jim