If you are experiencing symptoms of trauma, the first thing I want to say is that it is critical that you consult a professional who specializes in trauma work. Effective treatment of the impact of trauma on an individual and their relationships should begin with a thorough assessment, to identify the symptoms and behaviors resulting from the individual trauma response. Before I get into the 2 keys to recovering from trauma, let’s first look at what trauma is, and what it isn’t.
Most of us think of trauma as an event that caused us significant distress. In the fields of physical medicine and psychology, trauma is the injury or damage sustained by an individual, from an event, or series of events. This is an important distinction to make, because treatment focuses on healing these damages – perhaps also on mitigation or avoidance of future injury – but does not attempt to change or reverse the event itself, which has already passed. Trauma is not the overwhelming event itself, but the adverse effects and damage to the individual.
It’s somewhat easier to comprehend trauma and treatment of trauma in the context of physical injuries because physical injuries are in many cases visible, or easily identified by the symptoms. Psychological trauma is much more difficult to define, recognize, or measure, because the effects on the psyche aren’t as apparent. There isn’t a clear, direct connection between the injury and the symptoms. However, there are a variety of diagnostic tools that behavioral health clinicians use to identify and measure the effects of psychological trauma on an individual.
Let me first provide a precise definition of trauma. Trauma occurs when the following three criteria are true. First, exposure to an event, or series of events, that harms or threatens harm (physical or psychological). Second, this event overwhelms the individual’s ability to respond, escape, or make it stop. Third, reactions or adaptations resulting from exposure to the event creates significant difficulty in functioning.
“It’s not about what we have experienced in our lives, but how we come to understand it.” – Mary Main
Mary Main, a psychologist and researcher in the field of attachment, distinguishes between “resolved” and “unresolved” trauma. This means that although someone may experience a particularly traumatic series of events, and develop adverse coping strategies or experience impact in certain areas of their lives, there is hope of recovery and significant change.
2 Keys to Recovering From Trauma
Now you may be wondering why some people seem to be more adversely affected by negative experiences than others who are able to recover fairly quickly. Two mitigating factors that play a very important role in the recovery process are support and resiliency. “Support” is the recognition and validation of not only our experience, but of our emotional response to these experiences.
Imagine receiving particularly devastating news, or experiencing something distressing. Who do you go to first? These are the people in our lives who “get it” and are most likely to affirm your experience and your emotions. Some people have more of this type of supports in their lives – through family, friends and social groups, while others have very little support.
Resilience, the second factor in how well people recover from trauma, is a measure of how much adversity and stress a person can manage without becoming dysregulated. It is also a measure of an individual’s capacity for flexibility, acceptance, and adaptation in the face of adversity and stress. Resilience is not innate; it is developed over time. Developmental factors, especially the quality of our earliest relationships in life, play a huge role in acquisition of resilience. Resilience can also diminish over time. Factors such as lack of access to support, abuse, changes in physical health, and chronic stress can decrease resilience significantly.
Therapy and behavioral interventions can be very effective in the treatment of trauma. Here at the Marriage Recovery Center, we offer a Trauma Recovery Sessions Package to guide you through the recovery process, starting with a thorough, in-depth assessment of your trauma response, leading into a customized plan to help you move beyond the trauma and heal. For more information, please reach out to our Client Care Team or call (206) 219-0145.