Exploring the Impact of Trauma
Over the next month we will be exploring the concepts of trauma weekly on our blog. As common as it is to experience various levels of trauma and loss in life, what trauma is and how it can impact us is very often misunderstood. We will be writing this blog series both for the person that has experienced trauma in their lives, as well as the family and friends who seek to hold emotional space for and support them through their life journey.
What is trauma?
This week we will start by exploring what trauma is and isn’t. By definition trauma is simply:
“an injury or an event that was found highly distressing or overwhelming”.
They are easy to identify when we are looking at high profile traumatic events such as natural disasters, acts of war, assault, abuse, or severe accidents. However, traumatic events and the impact that the can have on a person can become more difficult to identify, be aware of and respond to when the events are less public and easily noticeable from the spectator seat. To further complicate this the impact of a wide variety of traumatic events are based on a person’s, supports, histories and own internal experiences.
To help us work through this topic of trauma we will first break it into categories to make it easier to identify. Although we are listing 5 basic categories, they are not all inclusive and none of them are necessarily more significant or important than the others. Each can come with long term difficulties that can be life changing. And very few of us will find losses or traumas ‘just’ in one category. Life can be long and complicated; it is natural and expected that we will pick up bruises along the way. What is important is recognizing and honoring it. From there we can work on the healing process and finding new ways to feel safe, strong, and hopeful again.
It is What are the main “types of trauma”
(Type 1) Single Incident Trauma: This might include witnessing a murder, having a severe car accident, being assaulted by a stranger, living through a natural disaster (think tornadoes and earthquakes), or being involved in a house fire. Single incident traumas are easily identifiable by the person who experienced them and those around them and a person can typically expect at least some level of support and understanding from others, at least initially.
(Type 2) Complex Trauma: Complex trauma includes traumatic events and experiences that may develop over a longer period of time, events that have been repeated, and experiences that are ongoing and consequently impact more areas of life. This could be an issue of abuse or assault as a child, long term medical issues, neglect, domestic abuse, or bullying. One of the big concepts here is that type 2 trauma is not a ‘one and done’ experience. It is far more ‘complex’ than that and because it is repeated it can lead to a lack of trust of others in general and come with an ongoing fear that even if the experience is no longer occurring that it (or similar types of things) can be repeated at any time.
Secondary Trauma: Secondary trauma means that even though the ‘traumatic event’ did not happen to you directly and that you were never in a position of danger yourself, that you may still have been strongly impacted by it in some way. This can be from listening to the stories of others, working in high trauma fields, or even witnessing grotesque violence or traumatic events. Right now, we see a huge increase in health care workers struggling with issues of secondary traumatization from the wave after wave of physical and mental health issues related to COVID.
Collective Trauma (Community Trauma): This may be best understood as trauma that is experienced by a certain group or culture. This could be based on socio economics, classism, racism, sexism, or even agism. There is a very real impact of having assumptions developed about you, by people you don’t even know, based on your inclusion in some type of collective element. This can be very hard for those outside of that community to understand. Racism for example, is hard to understand if you are middle class and white but is life altering if you are black living in an inner-city environment.
Small ‘t’ trauma: We find this to be the most overlooked trauma group. These are less noticeable traumatic events that can nothingness completely impact a person’s life direction and coping abilities. Small t traumas could include moving, losing a job, getting a divorce, experience a death, having a pet pass away, failing a test, overhearing critical or crude comments, or experiencing identity theft. Oftentimes those experiencing small t traumas feel like they don’t have the right to struggle and they will consequently try to hide their distress which creates its own level of secondary & complex trauma.
One of the most important concepts in trauma work is that your experience of trauma does not have to be validated by anyone else to be real and matter. If it matters to you then it matters. End of Story.
Next week we will be exploring types of trauma treatment options and what is meant by ‘trauma informed care’, but first, with Thanksgiving sneaking up on us tomorrow, we wanted to include some tips on what trauma informed care of ourselves and others can look like over the holidays.
What does Trauma informed care around the holidays look like?
Does your love one feel safe in expressing what they are thinking and feeling. Even if they are unhappy thoughts or they aren’t feeling ‘into’ the holidays.
Do they feel like they have a choice of when and where they celebrate? Are all family rituals mandatory or do they have the freedom to say no without negative backlash from family members? Sometimes just knowing that they have a choice can make participating so much easier.
Discuss together the family plans, take input, ask what they want might want included or not. Are there family traditions that are a trigger for their trauma or create emotional burdens during the holidays. Don’t just listen, HEAR what they are saying and incorporate that feedback.
Make sure you do what you say you are going to do. If you say you are going to call and check in on them, make sure you do. If they asked to stay back from social gatherings and you agreed keep to that, don’t ‘surprise’ them with a family visit or force holiday elements that you think are good for them but told them you wouldn’t push.
Help you loved ones have a voice. Ask them what they need, support them through it, and reinforce their building of boundaries, skills and/or resources over time.
Whether you have gone through a trauma/ loss yourself or you are supporting a loved one who has, remember that there are no timelines, no set rules, or no pass/fail test to the healing process. As you go through this holiday season and beyond remember to choose kindness and grace if things don’t fall into the ‘shoulds’ you are used to. If you find yourself needing support, reach out. Connect with others. Start Counseling. Call a friend.
You matter and so does your pain.
Blogs related to trauma and loss:
Jill Winklevoss, LCSW
Working with Children, Teens & Adults
Accepting new clients for in person appointments in our New Castle & Hermitage offices, or virtually anywhere in PA using our secure telehealth platform!
- Anger Management
- Coping Skills Growth
- Foster Care & Adoption
- Grief/ Loss
- Parenting Issues
- PCIT Certified
- Reactive Attachment
- Stress Management
Blogs related to helping children & Families:
External Supports and Resources:
- Complex Trauma Resources: for people who don’t fit in neat little boxes & everyone who cares about them.
- NCSACW: Trauma Resource Center Websites
At Angelus we have a great group of therapists available to help you through your healing journey. Reach out today to get started and see if one of our therapists is the right fit for you.