Trauma is, sadly, a fact of life. In the past, people suffering from the effects of trauma were diagnosed as suffering a Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Nowadays the condition has been sympathetically relabelled as a special type of injury acquired through trauma. The term has now been reclassified as Post Traumatic Stress Injury, or PTSI, which is my preferred usage.
Interestingly we tend to think of trauma as being caused by a major life-threatening event, however trauma can come in many forms, some of them subtler than you’d expect. Trauma is in fact divided into two types, sometimes referred to as big ‘T’ Traumas and little ‘t’ traumas. Big ‘T’ Traumas are the major life-threatening events people can experience, whereas little ‘t’ traumas are the pervasive, often subtle interpersonal or emotional traumas that we can experience.
Unlike big 'T' Traumas that involve a traumatic episode in which you are an unwitting victim, little 't' traumas involve situations in which you are not only the victim, but you also feel somehow responsible. Naturally there can be an overlap between the two types of trauma. Contrary to popular belief, it’s often the little ‘t’ traumas that tend to have a more damaging or long-term effect. Though it goes without saying that both types of trauma can have devastating effects on your life, and both types of trauma can have a direct effect on your nervous system. Fortunately this effect is reversible.
"Both types of trauma can have a direct effect on your nervous system. Fortunately this effect is reversible."
What is it the makes certain events difficult to overcome? Why is it that we can find ourselves stuck in trauma, sometimes even long after the traumatic event has passed? The defining condition of all trauma is an experience of helplessness. Interestingly, when you experience a threatening event and you either fight it successfully, or you escape it successfully, you tend not to experience trauma. This is because your organism experiences a sense of mastery or control over the problem. In cases of trauma, you can neither fight nor flight the problem successfully and you experience intense helplessness. At the biological and physiological level, when we experience helplessness, our bodies automatically go into their last form of defence, the 'freeze' response. In cases of PSTI, your organism remains locked in its instinctive freeze response.
"At the biological and physiological level, when we experience helplessness, our bodies automatically go into their last form of defence, the 'freeze' response. In cases of PSTI, your organism remains locked in it's instinctive freeze response."
The freeze response is, in many ways, a hangover from our evolutionary past. When certain animal species are under threat and they cannot successfully fight or flight the situation, they fall to the ground as if they’ve suddenly died! While it seems counter-intuitive, this instinctive response is adaptive because many predators require the thrill of the fight or chase to arouse their instinct to kill. Other theorists, such as Stephen Porges, author of The Polyvagal Theory, suggest that the freeze response helps to facilitate a less painful death.
The nervous system in human beings is capable of generating a freeze response, however because our brains evolved differently we don’t necessarily experience physical paralysis, though we might. Our nervous system can however remain stuck in a freeze response until it receives the right feedback to help it switch off.
You may find it helpful to read through the relevant pages above, or to look at my Sequential Psychotherapy website, which explains how trauma can be overcome. It has a wealth of information about how your symptoms are likely be happening, as well as a helpful, easy to understand video that explains what I do.
Trauma is frequently a complex issue that requires a carefully tailored treatment plan to progressively get you back on your feet. Individuals who are experiencing PTSI often struggle with feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and anxiety, or they may experience symptoms that are uncomfortable to talk about. A soldier I worked with was ashamed about the way he acted out violently towards his wife after having experienced in a mortar attack while on tour. He was instinctively 'fighting' because he was locked in a freeze response and still felt under threat. Another client I worked with experienced his freeze response as a state of psychological shut-down and he had a strong impulse to escape and hide himself from the world. Both these cases illustrate how the human nervous system, when stuck in a stress cycle, can trigger recurrent episodes of fight or flight type behaviour and an attempt to get control and
If you’re struggling with the legacy of trauma why don’t you get in touch to book your FREE initial consultation and join me at The Bristol Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy Clinic or online via Skype so we can have a chat about your situation in privacy and comfort. From there I’ll be able to tailor a treatment plan to get you back on your feet and comfortably back in control.