Basically anything that has a negative impact upon us can be classified as trauma. Writers today often distinguished between big "T" trauma and small, or little, "t" trauma. The big "T" traumas are the really significant events that are often one-time events. It may be an assault, an auto accident, or something that a soldier, or first responder experiences. Small "t" traumas are the more common, ongoing events that occur. These are often the experiences of children, but may apply to adults as well. The yelling and screaming of a caregiver or partner would fall into this category. Emotional abuse, neglect, abandonment, belittling, bullying, or any of a number of other smaller scale events also count as little "t" trauma. What is really important to understand is that in many ways small "t" traumas have a more profound and lasting impact that the larger one-time events.
Here are some helpful websites to understand the nature of trauma.
Timberline Knolls is a residential treatment located in Lemont, Illinois. Their website has helpful information in understanding the nature of trauma and may help give you perspective on some of your own live experiences. You may not need residential treatment, but their information may be very helpful.
Read about how EMDR can help with both big "T" and small "t" trauma here.
Trauma is a "hot" topic in the mental health community. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) has a lot of good information about what constitutes trauma and its impact. Click here to discover more about trauma from SAMSHA.
The Impact of Our Family of Origin
The impact of trauma is profound. For some, the memory of trauma is clear and a very present reminder of what happened. However, many who grew up in homes where painful events were everyday experiences have grown so accustomed to a live of pain they have become numb to the impact.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) looked at early life experiences and adult problems in the lives of thousands of individuals. The results were staggering. For example, The study found that survivors of childhood trauma are much more likely to attempt suicide, have eating disorders, or become IV drug users than those whose early home life was more stable. The higher the number of adverse experiences in a person's childhood, the more likely they will experience mental, emotional, and physical problems as an adult; often leading to early death.
The survey is quick and simple. There are ten questions with simple Yes/No answers. Answer the questions and total your score; it's that easy. If you scored 3 or above a conversation with a therapist that understands and has training in effective treatment methods could change your live. Take the survey today. Call today to begin the healing process.
The Long-Term Effects of Trauma
Let's begin by acknowledging that the brain and it's many functions is incredibly complex. The brain is made of billions of neurons. As we think, feel emotions, and act in certain ways the brain creates pathways which help automatic those repetitive actions. Driving, typing, other behaviors become so automated that we don't think much about what we are doing. (This explains why some drivers often appear they are not paying attention. The fact may well be they are acting in something like auto-pilot rather than paying attention.)
When a child grows up in a harsh environment, that environment shapes the functions of the brain in certain ways. The child may learn to interpret non-verbal cues early in life to know what kind of mood his or her caregiver is in. The child thus learns to protect itself by reading the environment. This can be a very good thing because the child learns to not do things that have proven to be hurtful when the parent or sibling is angry, drunk, or otherwise acting in a unpredictable manner. While this is good for the child because it may help shield him or her from certain dangers, it brings its own set of problems.
When a child learns to be "hyper-alert," that self-protective way of thinking is good. But that neural pathway, that programmed way of remaining vigilant, remains with the child as he or she goes into adulthood. As an adult, hyper-vigilance can get in the way of normal living. Hyper-vigilance can interfere with relationships due to always anticipating, or perhaps expecting, something hurtful to happen. Trust is nearly impossible in such a setting. Being anxious as a way of life is not uncommon. Past negative experiences often lead to problems with emotional regulation. Over reactions, shifting into the familiar "fight-or-flight" mode of emotional responses is common. Again, this can interfere with relationships and normal living as an adult. In short, the experiences of childhood, and especially experiences of childhood trauma, profoundly shape the function of the adult brain.
Resources that explains this more fully, in language that is not highly scientific can be found in the links below.
Despite the rather technical title, Understanding the Neurobiology of Trauma and Implications for Interviewing Victims, is a down to earth explanation of the principles described above.
TED talks are known for the helpful information provided by professionals from a diverse background. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris talks about the impact of childhood trauma and how this carries into adult lives. It's an important message. See Dr. Burke-Harris' message here.