BY Laura Williams @ The Cypress Counseling Group
"Trauma...no I don't have trauma."
This is one of the most repeated phrases I hear in my counseling office. And after a few sessions of gently talking about life, difficulties, stress, anxiety and/or depression, the most common thing I hear is, “Oh, I guess I do have some trauma…”
You see, when people see or hear the word trauma, they think vehicle crashes, mass shootings, rape, and brain injuries. No one usually considers things like growing up with a dad with bipolar disorder or a mom who was a functioning alcoholic as trauma. Normally, they think, “Well, my dad just traveled a lot and when he was around, he was too tired to be interested in me.” Or, “Religion was super important and kept us on the straight and narrow. That’s just the way I was raised and I should just get over it.”
In general, people think that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is something that happens to people when they come back from war or when some single incident trauma happens. What they don’t realize is that the many of the symptoms that are associated with PTSD, generally show up in our lives in ways we would never guess. Anxiety, being unemotional, learning difficulties, sleep problems, aggression/anger/rage, self-medication, and lapses in memory are only a few of the ways the effects of childhood trauma can show up in adulthood.
The reality is, very few people make it into adulthood completely whole.
We have all developed some kind of “coping” mechanism in order to get through hard things and most of the time, even if they look healthy from the outside, they are still hiding emotions and creating more wounds. There are the “typical” coping skills that trauma survivors experience, i.e. alcoholism, drug addiction, self-harm, suicide attempts, gambling problems, sex addiction, etc. But then there are the more hidden ones, i.e. Netflix, Candy Crush, binge eating or restricting, affairs, being a “helicopter” parent (child has no personal space) or a “free-range” parent (child has too much personal space), over-spending, working too much, over-committing, gaming, working out too much and many others that show up.
When we spend too much time in our particular “coping” style, we end up pushing all feelings aside and instead it shows up in unhealthy ways like anxiety, depression, self-pity, resentment, shame, pride, and apathy just to name a few.
Generally, this is the point at which people realize that something is wrong and that they don’t know how to be happy. Relationships are struggling, parenting skills aren’t working anymore, and you’re just generally irritated with life. This is the point at which we know we need to get back in touch with ourselves and look at the real source of the problem. Most of the time, the answer is trauma.
Through counseling, we look at your childhood experiences and assess how these have constructed your view of reality. We will also look at what you are believing about yourself which affects how you deal with many areas of your life. For example, if in childhood, you only got recognized when you were achieving things, the message to yourself might be “I am not enough”. Therefore, you will do things in adulthood that will constantly prove that truth wrong, i.e., over-committing, perfectionism, helicopter parenting, and other ways of seeking approval. All of these behaviors will lead to the unhealthy feelings mentioned above because they are all meant to hide what is really going on beneath all that; hurt, sadness, loneliness, shame, fear, anger and guilt. We will look at new ways of coping so that you can begin to practice allowing yourself the space to experience feelings in a healthy way, so that trauma no longer has a hold on you.