Trauma- It’s Not Always What You Think

Apr 10, 2023

“If you never heal from what hurt you, then you will bleed on people who did not cut you.”
– Unknown

Trauma is something that many of us lack a real understanding of, and in today’s world it is bandied around often. The dictionary definition of trauma is- “the response to a deeply distressing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope. May cause feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences. It does not discriminate and is pervasive throughout the world”.

Here’s the thing, trauma is not always, something huge. Whilst there’s varying degrees of trauma, the feelings mentioned above can occur from things in our childhood that us as an adult would definitely not deem as traumatic. In this article I’m not speaking about significant trauma, such as abuse, going to war, serious neglect. I’m discussing the smaller traumas, the one’s some perhaps don’t understand as trauma. I’m wanting to highlight an area that’s very much ignored, yet underpins so many issues for people.

Imagine a young child who witnesses an argument between its parents, where mum and dad are upset, perhaps harsh words are spoken and in the midst of all this, the child feels unseen and frightened. As an adult we understand arguments happen and often are resolved and forgotten. But to the young child this argument could be traumatic and could form a belief system in them, that effects them for life. Or the child who is admonished for their emotions, who grows up believing that emotions are bad and they should not show them. Or the child with distracted parents, who feels unseen and learns to people please, perhaps, forms a belief they are not good enough for love and attention.

You see, as adults we can look at these examples and think they are nonsense and we now have the emotional maturity to understand the situation. But as a child we don’t have that and our beliefs are formed from our environment. How safe and secure we feel. And how seen and heard we feel.

The reality is when these beliefs are formed, we are unaware of them. We run from our unconscious minds 90% of the time, therefore it’s fair to say, we are running off beliefs we are not even aware of. Sometimes these beliefs are unhealthy, at the time they were formed they were what we needed to cope with life, but now as an adult they no longer serve us. The issue is most of us have absolutely no idea that these beliefs formed in childhood are impacting our lives. Our behaviours. Our relationships. Most people have no idea that when something angers us, makes us anxious, sad, insecure, jealous- they are triggers from our unconscious.

This is trauma. Not the typical trauma and this is not to minimise more severe forms of trauma, but rather to highlight the many facets of trauma. As a society we need to start understanding all the forms of trauma. Where it stems from. How it presents. How it can affect the way we show up in life. And what we can do to help ourselves.

Have a think about society right now. We have a mental health epidemic with stress, anxiety and depression in epic numbers. We have addiction issues. We have bullying problems. We have people who want to control others. We have relationship breakdowns in record numbers. There’s a grumbling undercurrent of unhappiness, resentment, bitterness, lack of motivation, people feeling stuck, loneliness, people pleasing- with words like narcissist, gaslighting, ghosting and love bombing being thrown around like confetti. There’s closed mindedness and an overarching display of judgement towards others. We have arrived to such an unhealthy place and we wonder why so many people are struggling.

We can’t heal from what we are unaware of. We can’t understand our triggers unless we are willing to do the work. We can’t change our unhealthy beliefs unless we are willing to face ourselves and overcome our own judgements of who we are. We can’t change and grow unless we are willing to become self-aware. And we cannot begin to heal, unless we are willing to acknowledge our own behaviours. Unless we are willing to stop lying to ourselves and be brutally honest. It isn’t easy and we will so often push down those feelings, those truths because sometimes they are hard to face.

In comes toxic positivity. When people don’t want to face their own truth, triggers, behaviours, emotions, beliefs and feelings- they mask it all with this fake positivity. A toxicity that is running rampant in society and dismisses and invalidates anyone who tries to be honest about their feelings.

Understanding trauma and its significance in our lives is a huge step forward. Understanding that there are varying degrees of trauma but an individual’s response to that trauma can and does effect people at the same level. It’s critical, to understand that our own response to something can be as painful, even if the trauma is less significant in the scheme of things. When these traumas occur and our belief systems are formed based on our environment as young children, they can and do affect our adult lives. It’s important to note this is not about blame and even the happiest of homes can still have instances where a young child will feel a trauma response.

I had a client who had loving parents and from all accounts a great childhood. But her parents argued, her mother was fiery and her father more reserved. When her father didn’t react to her mother’s words, her mother would become very emotional. The arguments didn’t last long and her parents made up like nothing happened and are still together. But for her as a little girl, when these arguments took place, she felt anxious. She felt unseen. She had a burning desire to keep the calm. Fast forward into her adult life and she was a people pleaser. She hated conflict and would do anything to avoid it. She gave everything of herself in relationships to keep the peace. She came to me feeling like she was never enough and had absolutely no idea, that this stemmed from the beliefs she formed as a child. This had affected her choices, behaviours and relationships all her life. This was her trauma.

In a society that encourages instant gratification. Instant fixes. Toxic positivity and conditions us to meet unhealthy expectations, we need to become discerning enough to recognise the danger this has on our mental and emotional health. We need to become honest in what we are feeling and what we need- not what we are being told to need. We need to be able to tell the difference between a positive outlook and toxic positivity and understand we cannot, positive think our trauma, pain or grief away. And we need realise that we cannot change and grow unless we are willing to dig deep and find the noxious weeds that need to be removed.

“When all you know is fight or flight, red flags and butterflies all feel the same.”
– Unknown