The trouble with trauma is that it messes you up! Big time! In so many ways that aren’t readily apparent.
What is Trauma
First, let’s define trauma. Most people think it is the result of a really intense and scary experience like a bad car accident, being assaulted, armed combat or being caught in a natural disaster. These are considered Big T traumas and are normally based in fear that threaten bodily harm or even death.
But there are tons of Little T traumas that can affect you in subtle, but powerful ways that can cause you long term problems. These are times when something unexpected, surprising or shocking happens to you. It can be a comment, a look, or an action which generates an emotional reaction, and creates a decision and/or a belief about yourself, others or the world.
Regardless of the intensity of the trauma, you become stressed which is another term for fight/flight or freeze mode. The traumatic experience is stored in your subconscious memory because whatever you did in the moment, helped you to survive the experience. It kept you safe. Because, at the deepest level of our reptilian brain, life is all about survival then safety is the primary goal. That is why when you encounter a situation in your present life that is similar to a previous “traumatic experience”, you are triggered to react exactly the same way as you did to the original experience – because that is what “saved” you before. Make sense?
Other terms for being triggered are “knee jerk reaction” or “having your buttons pushed”. You don’t know why you react the way you do, you just do. Sometimes it works to your benefit but sometimes it doesn’t.
Big T Trauma
Different things can set off a reaction because our memories of traumas also include sensory information. A Big T trauma example could be, if you rear-ended someone in a car accident, there may have been things that you saw, heard, smelled or felt. You may have seen the bright red brake lights of the car in front of you, heard the crunch of metal and glass upon impact, smelled burning rubber from the tires as you braked hard to stop and you may have been jostled around upon impact. Thereafter, when you are exposed to any of those sensations, if the memory of that accident becomes vivid. You may be triggered to react the same way you did originally, physically, mentally and emotionally. If the memory is not vivid, you may react the same way or feel shaken or afraid but can’t really put your finger on exactly why.
One example of how you may react is, when you are driving and see brake lights you may tense up and be fearful of being too close to the car in front of you in anticipation of a collision. These kinds of reactions will continue until the emotional reactions to the aspects of the original memory (what you saw, heard, etc.) are neutralized.
Many combat veterans react adversely to loud noises that sound like gunfire or explosions. They may consistently be hypervigilant and always on guard because, as a basic means of survival, they became conditioned to be in that state for long periods of time. When they return home, similar noises can trigger them to duck for cover or they may freeze physically as their mind recalls a combat situation and they “go there”.
Little T Trauma
Although Little T traumas do not damage you physically, they can produce life altering emotional baggage. It usually begins with a situation that is unexpected, surprising, or shocking which makes you feel embarrassed, put down, made fun of, rejected, abandoned, unworthy or unloved among other reactions. You also make a decision or belief about that experience such as “I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve to have…( xyz), Things never work out for me, or There is something wrong with me”. The list is endless because we humans are soooo very creative at the ways we find to beat up on ourselves!
Little T Examples
An example might be that you are 10 years old and in a grocery store with your mom. You didn’t get a cart or basket to put your purchases in and you are juggling lots of stuff in your arms. A glass jar of salsa drops accidently and breaks on the floor making a complete mess (this is the unexpected, surprising or shocking experience). Not only do people nearby turn and look at you but your mom says, “That was stupid”. You feel completely embarrassed and decide that you are stupid for trying to hold all of those things. A belief that you can’t handle a lot of things at once may emerge and that you should have asked for help.
Thereafter you can be triggered just by the sound of breaking glass, immediately feel embarrassed and look around to see if anyone is staring at you. You may subconsciously always get a cart or basket when you shop to avoid the situation happening again. When similar situations occur, you default to thinking that you are stupid. Patterns of these kinds of experiences occur which reinforce the thoughts, emotions and beliefs around it and persist throughout your life.
When you get a little older and are in High School – a very vulnerable time when we put a lot of value on appearances – someone may make an off-hand comment about your clothes, weight or hair. You immediately feel self-conscious about your appearance and feel like you are unliked, unloved, or unacceptable in some way – that there is something wrong with you. You may decide to go on a diet, update your wardrobe or your hair style to be more accepted. If you don’t have the finances to invest in these things, and you have embraced the belief that something is wrong with you, then a feeling of being less than or unworthy may set in. This can lead to a chronic pattern of lack of money, and lack of abundance in other areas of your life.
The Cost of Trauma
This is how Little T traumas can sabotage your dreams and desires. You are happily going along one path and then have that unexpected shock or surprise, take it personally, twist it into something it is not, and before you know it you’ve veered off your original life path and are headed in a completely different direction carrying a backpack full of emotional baggage. With every additional situation that takes you by surprise, you add more baggage, more beliefs, and make more decisions that slowly chip away at your self-esteem. The fallout can be you don’t get the partner you want, or the job and money you want. You are self-critical and beat up on yourself perhaps turning to food or other substances to feel good – but which really only make you feel worse. Then you reach middle-age and wonder how you got to where you are.
Once you realize this, you may start reading self-help books, attending workshops, exploring alternative modality solutions or seek therapy. You may decide to go back to school and acquire the skills to get a better job that generates more money. Along the way you learn new things about yourself, make changes and incorporate into your lifestyle the methods that work for you. This may be just what you needed, and life is great again.
But, if your attempts to fix what’s wrong fall short and you continue to seek, continue to feel like something is missing and never feel completely satisfied, then what do you do? You go to the source of where it all started – that aisle in the grocery store, that day in High School or wherever it began for you. Then you release the emotional intensity of the experience and shift the thoughts and beliefs around what happened.
Emotions Rule You
Adverse experiences have an emotional, thought and belief component to them. You cannot have a thought without a corresponding emotion. As humans, we are controlled, and our actions are driven, by emotions. We feel like doing or not doing something. If we decide that something is unfair, we feel angry. If someone has a bigger house and fancier car than we do, we may feel jealous. When we are made fun of, we feel humiliated and embarrassed. When someone we love leaves us for another, we feel rejected and abandoned. Since emotions have so much power over our lives, doesn’t it make sense to start there to encourage your healing?
The Alternative That Works
Millions of people world-wide are turning to alternative therapies that go deeper into uncovering the root causes of when current problems began. One of the best of these therapies is called Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) also known as Tapping because you gently tap on various acupuncture points while recalling the memory of one of those surprise experiences and the associated emotions, thoughts and beliefs. While recalling the experience, you may actually feel like you are there and can see and feel exactly what happened. This is a state of stress, or the fight/flight/freeze mode.
Tapping on specific acupuncture points sends a calming signal to the part of the brain that is on high alert and reduces the emotional intensity of the experience. Once the emotions are reduced, the stress reaction dissipates and allows the creation of seeing the situation from a different perspective. Seeing it from a different perspective also affects the original belief. You may realize that you shouldn’t have been juggling so many items in the store, but dropping and breaking the jar didn’t make you a stupid person. It just happened. The criticism about your clothes in High School was from people that you didn’t really like anyway, and they were pretty stuck up. Who were they to judge you?
These shifts in perspective help you to see yourself and your life differently and stress levels reduce. Because you have carried the emotional burdens for so long, you don’t even realize how they have weighed you down. When they are released, you sense that a huge weight has been lifted. You feel self-appreciation, acknowledge your personal value, and have a brighter outlook on your life. Confidence rises, new opportunities appear, and you feel like possibilities formerly out of reach are now within your grasp. The true you, that got sidetracked and side-lined, is back on track.
The dwindling of stress allows weight to fall off naturally because you aren’t stress eating. When you stop beating up on yourself emotionally or using illness as an excuse to stay small in life, your body can begin to heal from chronic illnesses and pain. Relationships become free of anger, resentment and jealousy. You find more reasons to feel happy, grateful and satisfied which draws more of that into your life. In short, life is good.
How To Get Started
If what you have just read makes sense to you and you want to learn more, or get started shedding your baggage, please schedule a free, no obligation consultation with me, Life Wellness Coach, Christine Hunt, at www.calendly.com/hfhw/meeting and let me help you get over it so you can get on with it!