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Working through childhood trauma!

WHAT IS TRAUMA?

In pursuit of my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, I have defined trauma at this point several times in many ways, but there's one definition that I have come to use more frequently, which is relative to the world in which we currently operate. It reads as follows: Traumatic incidents are identified as natural disasters, threats, and experiences of harm/violence (death, serious injury, and or sexual in nature) witnessed and or experienced whether first or secondhand (Mikal-Flynn et al., 2018).


I like this definition for a few reasons, but I will only highlight two, first because it incorporates both scientific, psychological, and shared understandings of trauma, and second because it also incorporates the methods by which trauma is consumed. This definition provides a very good basis for what should be considered traumatic experiences, with which, we can use our educated opinion to categorize individual/isolated incidents (not spelled out) that also fall into one or more of these categories, e.g. physical, mental, and emotional abuse. Generally, with a better understanding of what trauma is and can be, we equip ourselves with the ability to identify, categorize and address trauma appropriately.

It's critical that we recognize the use of inaccurate definitions and associations of trauma, hinders our ability to healthily navigate and handle trauma. Essentially, we become victims of incorrectly assigned perceptions of trauma. However, if we give appropriate definitions and perceptions to trauma, we enable decisions to proactively address and treat trauma, which supports establishing healthy patterns and responses to trauma.


PERCEPTIONS OF TRAUMA...

As children, we have no perception of trauma, primarily because for many the definition is unknown as it has never been shared. Therefore, as children, we are not equipped to identify trauma appropriately. Subsequently, any trauma that we experience in our childhood (unless identified and addressed) will essentially be present throughout our upbringing and into adulthood. So, all of the negative patterns we've established as a result of our traumatic experience, impair our ability to function in and respond to trauma proactively and healthily as adults.


Generally, however, how we define and what we associate with trauma varies culturally. Some cultures don't regard rape as trauma, but it is traumatic whether it's viewed that way or not. Some individuals and parents don't regard watching videos of extreme violence or murder in the media (including social media), but it doesn't make it any less traumatic. Lastly, some also don't associate racism, witnessing a robbery, enduring a car accident (regardless of injury) and or overhearing the screams of a neighbor engulfed in domestic violence with trauma, but again, that doesn't make it any less traumatic. But as we assign appropriate definitions to trauma, we can identify and then validate our experiences that were very much traumatic.


However, unaddressed trauma looks and impacts us differently...


UNADDRESSED TRAUMA...

As adults, with unrecognized and unaddressed trauma, whether we know this or not, our traumatic experiences shape perceptions and dictate how we respond to others. More specifically it taints our ability to connect, empathize and support individuals with similar experiences. Essentially, we become desensitized to the true nature of trauma and how it impairs us because we assume that trauma is a natural occurrence, when in fact it is not. And while I understand that normalcy is relative, note that I use natural because it is not to be excepted. Thus, instead of developing sensitivity to trauma and the traumatic experiences of others as adults, we operate under the notion that our past experiences are natural, assumed normal, solely remain in the past, and are not unique to our individual experiences.


What is typically unknown, however, is that there is a direct relationship between our traumatic experiences, repressed emotions, negative behavioral patterns, addiction, mental health disorders and in many cases (depending on severity) other cognitive and developmental (educational) challenges.

Trauma presents, can be triggered, reinforced, and heightened through familial, platonic, and social relationships and settings, whether through observation or first-hand experiences. In other words, the trauma we experience is influenced by and or directly impacts how we establish and maintain connections with our surroundings and with others.


Thus to support recognizing and addressing childhood trauma that surfaces in our adult lives and presents challenges to living healthily, I've shared some tips below.


4 TIPS TO SUPPORT WORKING THROUGH TRAUMA!


I. RECOGNIZING & VALIDATING THE EXPERIENCE

To best recognize your experiences from your childhood, operating within the definition of trauma established above is best to support with accepting that although your experience may not have previously been defined as a traumatic incident, it doesn't make it any less traumatic.


Once you properly categorize the trauma you've endured, you can then validate your experience. Validating that experience is essentially (in addition to proper classification) vocalizing that you accept the reality of the experience. Then you can discourage running from the experience through avoidance. Avoiding the experience only contributes to years of unaddressed trauma, which likely will facilitate multiple layers of the experience as it presents in your day-to-day life. This process is what is commonly called in the world of psychology "complex trauma".


Additionally, validating any experience of trauma comes with acknowledging that we have questions and an innate need to fully understand the experience.

II. ANSWERING THE QUESTIONS

We, as humans, are inquisitive by nature and oftentimes feel we need to know the "why". This is despite how relevant the "why" may be. So to help support with confronting the why (answering the questions), it's important to know that while asking questions can be appropriate and helpful, there are many times the answer is either complex and or may never be fully understood. Granted these possibilities, we need to be fluid in our approach. We must recognize that either way, knowing the why doesn't change our experience. So if understanding the why doesn't change our present, why are we so determined to know it?


One of the greatest things I learned is to find comfort in not knowing all things. Similarly, some things are not able to be explained in a way that appeases us. Thus, if it can't be explained to fully support our understanding, something else to be considered is that even if we get the privilege of a complete explanation, it doesn't ensure that we will be ok or satisfied after we hear the explanation. Also, that same justification will not illustrate the context of the experience fully. Because just as you are here reading this blog post to support navigating your trauma, you may be the first in your family to take this preliminary approach, thus there are generations of before you with unaddressed trauma, that frankly presented in your experience, because it too was left unidentified and unaddressed.


WHAT WE NEED TO KNOW: As we continue to evolve and grow, we learn that knowing the context of the situation and the history of all parties involved experience is just as significant as our experience. Regardless of this fact, please understand that any experiences encountered as children are never our fault. Children are supposed to be observed, cared for, and nurtured in a way that identifies their deficits and is corrected in a way that encourages them to be better. Similarly, children should not be punished, shunned, or made to feel less than others because of any emotional, biological, and psychological deficits that may present.


It is best to not blame yourself for someone else's action or inaction toward you. Similarly, you must release frustration, anger, and resentment toward the individual who has caused you harm. You have a responsibility to yourself to ensure that you confront the reality of your experience and commit to getting help to rectify it in the best way for you.


III. PROCESSING & COPING

Once you've recognized that you should assume no blame for the trauma that you've experienced, as well that understanding the why is not going to help you confront and process your experience, only then are ready to work on learning how to live in acknowledgment of your experience. Essentially processing and coping is the act of acknowledging what is, making the choice to accept it, allowing it to be a lesson, and establishing positive and healthy behavior patterns that discourage trauma to present in future and present actions and encounters with others. So to properly illustrate why you should make this choice I will share what would happen when you choose to avoid accepting your experience.


AVOIDANCE IS A PROBLEM: When we elect not to accept our experience we run the risk of operating in a space of avoidance. Avoidance is a means to addiction, depression, and other cognitive impairments and challenges, whether short or long-term. When you refuse to accept present and past experiences and circumstances typically the response is to separate yourself from that negative experience, which in turn leads to attempts to numb the pain. Numbing is also a means to addiction, which primarily stems from avoidance.


Many of the individuals you encounter on the streets are avoiding something. And I say many because not all individuals are in the same situation, some choose and then some are victims of their deficits left unrecognized and addressed by family and or their support system. But essentially, avoiding trauma, mental health deficits, ownership of poor choices, etc. disables our will to be positive and seek positive reinforcement. Avoidance is a space that lacks accountability and the strength required to do and be better.


IV. ESTABLISHING SAFETY & SECURITY

Once you're operating in the acceptance of what is and are actively trying to grow and evolve from your experiences of trauma, you are contributing to establishing environments of safety and security. It's when you take ownership of learning and doing better that you can be proactive in your safety and security. With this comes ensuring that you are managing the trauma identified. For many of us that may be through therapy and or practicing the tools of therapy to ensure that we don't succumb to being triggered by our prior experiences. Because addressing, coping, and healing from trauma does not make it go away, the work is in ensuring that you are using the tools provided, to minimize being triggered and prompted to revert to negative behavioral patterns as a result of triggers in the future. That is essentially how you establish and maintain your personal safety and security.

 

In short, unaddressed childhood trauma uniquely shapes us in ways that contribute to unhealthy dynamics (and or patterns) in how we respond to, develop and assign definitions and perceptions of trauma as adults. With prolonged negligence for correct definitions and associations of trauma, we normalize miseducation, which we assume makes us capable of functioning within trauma due to established negative patterns of avoidance, but that couldn't be further from the truth. It essentially hinders our ability to recognize the true nature of the damage trauma causes and the many ways it presents in our everyday activities. Therefore, avoiding trauma and ignoring symptom presentation has great consequences, so we need to do all we can to own our growth and positive behavioral patterns. Generally, with a better understanding of what trauma is and can be, we equip ourselves with the ability to identify, categorize and address trauma appropriately.

REFERENCES

Mikal-Flynn, J., Anderson, L. S., & Hoffman, J. (2018). Posttraumatic Growth and MetaHabilitation in Recreational Therapy Practice: A Strengths-Based Pathway to Recovery. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 52(3), 269–287.


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Audridom the blog created by author and blogger Audreyanna Garrett, stands to give birth to spirits of acceptance, encouragement, understanding and forgiveness, as well as help diminish spirits of fear, desperation, doubt and frustration, all while encouraging us to move forward in truth to something greater. 

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