How Today’s Emotional Health Links to Past Trauma
I am imagining how I have been beaten within an inch of my life, and there, hanging by a thread waiting for an ambulance and help, the trauma event is clear. A + B = a world of hurt. Traditional thinking on trauma evokes images most often of single event trauma like a car accident, a bomb, an episode of sexual assault to name a few. The trauma in mind, lives in memory amongst our circle of support when shared, as a specific event that occurred at a particular time, in a particular way.
“That must have hurt like hell!”
Now imagine the absence of an event. In fact, the very absence IS THE EVENT. Are you imagining that now? This is important. See how in the absence of the event, the support from outside is different? There’s no rally-around; no “come on, we are here for you 110%!” This is how…
another example (though less obvious and considered, sure) of the way complex trauma lives in our world, and then in us in our central nervous system.
In order to understand our current struggles with emotional health, we must take a sympathetic look at the traumas of our past. Whether we like it or not, they have shaped us and become a part of who we are, and these experiences can lead to symptoms of anxiety, depression, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, trauma treatment can empower us to heal our wounds and turn our struggles into strengths.
Understanding & Healing Trauma
New research shows that untreated trauma, even those things that happened years ago during childhood, can affect us long after the fact and lead to both mental and physical symptoms of illness. Let’s take a deeper look at the repercussions of traumatic experiences and the way they impact our emotional health in the long run.
What do we mean by Trauma?
I’m still hurting and wounded from the things that did and didn’t occur. There is trauma in the absence of necessary support and care.
Even though this list is by no means definitive (trauma is a broad term that can take on many different forms), it can be helpful to parse out the most common types of experiences that lead to painful mental health symptoms in adulthood. Trauma is:
- Neglect *
- Verbal Abuse *
- Sexual Abuse *
- Physical Abuse *
- Seeing others get hurt or abused *
- Invasions of privacy and a lack of respect for boundaries
- Growing up in poverty
- Divorce *
- Accidents, Surgeries, and Injuries
- Living with a mentally ill family member
- Death of a loved one
- Witnessing a loved one go through addiction
- Having a family member go to prison
Trauma treatment help begins with recognizing the influence of these past events on our current behavior. Even if you can’t think back to any one specific or extreme traumatic event, the negative experiences of our past continue to shape us whether we realize it or not. Many of us have learned to repress traumatic memories, downplay them, or make excuses for them. This is especially common when abuse occurs within the family, “becomes routine”, or happens over an extended period of time ( this is known as complex-trauma ). However, it’s so important that we recognize what has happened to us as valid and real so that we can accept those events and begin the process of recovery.
Trauma and Mental Health: A Scientific Perspective
Many of us are already aware on an intuitive level that trauma can have a huge impact on someone’s life, but did you know that there is new research that sheds more light? The recently published ACE study shows how childhood trauma can cause lifelong struggles with both emotional and physical health.
(H2) The ACE Study (2018)
ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences, which is a scientific term for the 10 forms of childhood trauma measured in this study and these 10 items are highlighted with an asterisk in the above list.
Researchers examined the existing literature and found that there was a pattern; the data showed that people who had experienced childhood trauma were more likely to suffer from both mental illness and physical illness (AKA somatic symptoms) like heightened risk for heart disease and changes in brain structure. Also, the greater the amount of trauma in someone’s past, the more likely they were to experience illness later in life. Interestingly, they also found that different forms of childhood traumas led to different changes in the brain. For example, victims of verbal abuse experienced changes in the language processing regions of the brain and those who had seen violence developed changes in the visual processing areas.
Now, when it comes to healing trauma, what should be the main takeaway of this study?
While knowing the specific ways that trauma affects our health is important, the main thing we should focus on is the fact that trauma plays a big part in the origins of our current struggles with emotional health and its effects are very much real and well documented.
Trauma Informed Care
Therapy is the first line of treatment for common disorders including:
- Addiction/Substance Abuse
- PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder)
- OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
Traditional therapy is a great first step, but it’s important to choose a program that specializes in addressing the root cause of the symptoms. Trauma informed care incorporates new research such as the ACE study and the expertise of trauma specialists that are experienced with the difficult and complex healing process.
Read more about our unique treatment options for those coping with traumatic experiences.
Healing and Recovery
While trauma isn’t the only factor that leads to mental illness, it is often a major component.
Simply put, the negative experiences of our past follow us into adulthood. They affect the way we feel, behave, and react to all sorts of situations and it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking “what’s wrong with me?!” It’s natural to have high expectations and wish we could do better, however, blaming ourselves isn’t fair. After-all, if you came across a reactive, abused, and abandoned pet would you blame the animal? No way! You would ask, what in the world has happened to this poor little creature, and what can I do to help her recover? It’s not just common sense to take a sympathetic stance towards our trauma-reactions; the research shows that it’s absolutely crucial to understand our problems and why they are happening to us.
I invite you to reframe your way of approaching your challenges with emotional health. Even though our first instinct when things like depression and anxiety come up might be to ask, “what’s wrong with me?” or “what’s wrong with that person?” instead, we should try asking “what happened?” Oprah explains the dramatic difference this small change has made in her life and relationships with others.
Let’s open up a safe space to talk about what has happened to us, and move forward together towards recovery.