Disclaimer: Possible Trigger Warning
I first became interested in trauma work at my previous job working with children and families. Early on in my time there, my employer provided us with a training on the ARC model (Attachment, Self-Regulation, & Competency) for working with complex trauma. Then, I was introduced to the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) study through Nadine Burke Harris’ TED talk, which heightened my interest. You can see the TED talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_childhood_trauma_affects_health_across_a_lifetime?language=en
In short, after noticing a trend of trauma history while researching obesity, researchers put together a list of 10 adverse childhood experiences that people find to be traumatic. The higher your ACE score, the higher the likelihood of developing not just mental health conditions, but physical health conditions as well such as obesity and heart disease (ACES Too High, 2021).
Trauma impacts so many of us and is misunderstood. Here are a few myths that I often come across:
Myth 1: If you experienced a traumatic event, you have PTSD.
Just like other mental health diagnoses, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a specific diagnosis that requires a number of criteria to be met to be diagnosed. Experiencing a traumatic event is just ONE of those criteria. Other symptoms need to be present for a period of time after the event to be diagnosed.
Myth 2: It is your fault something bad happened to you.
This is often considered “victim blaming”. I hear this more often directed at women or men who have been sexually assaulted. Instead of focusing on the pathology of the perpetrator, our society focuses on how the “victim” could have done this or that differently. This is unfair and offensive. It also contributes to why many people do not come forward after an assault, because they will not be believed.
Myth 3: Only people who have seen combat have PTSD.
PTSD can be diagnosed after a multitude of distressing events including wartime combat, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. Car accidents, witnessing assault/abuse, natural disasters, bullying, and divorce are just a few other examples of traumas.
Different Types of Trauma
As you can see, there are a number of things that are considered traumatic. It is difficult to put the different types of trauma into categories without leaving something out. As a general rule, I like to keep in mind that one event can be traumatic for one person and not another depending on their past experiences, psychology, and how the event has been perceived. There are traumas that are more straightforward such as physical/sexual abuse, physical/emotional neglect, being displaced (either from a natural disaster or being a refugee), sex trafficking, and being exposed to violence at a young age.
Then there are types of traumas that, depending on the person, may experience differently. Bullying, divorce, loss of a loved one, or relationship betrayal are a few examples.
Furthermore, there is complex trauma. Complex trauma refers to long-term, pervasive trauma that typically occurs in childhood. For instance, growing up with a parent who is struggling with mental health concerns such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, a psychotic disorder, or substance abuse, growing up in poverty, and/or being around high levels of community violence. Sometimes, these experiences are happening at once, potentially having a greater impact (Peterson, 2018).
Impacts of Trauma
As mentioned previously, experiencing a traumatic event does not equate to PTSD; however, trauma can result in other emotional consequences. Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are a few other diagnoses common with people who have experienced trauma(s).
Diagnoses aside, trauma often impacts our self-esteem, our trust in people, and in the world around us. People who have experienced trauma often carry it with them for years before disclosing due to feelings of shame, feeling like they are responsible for what happened, and thinking they may not be believed. People often question whether or not they have experienced the event, sometimes wondering if it was a dream. This is due to how the brain responds to trauma, but that can be for another post 🙂
If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms related to a traumatic event, seek professional help. There are a number of different treatment modalities that help with trauma such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), and Eye-Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR). Movement therapies have also been proven to effective for trauma such as yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong. It is important that if the trauma is having an impact on your life that you get help from a professional so you can find the treatment that is best for you. I know that it is difficult to talk about trauma, but if you find a therapist you trust, it could make all the difference.
-Laura Massaro, LCSW-C
What ACEs/PCEs do you have? ACEs Too High. (2021). https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/.
Peterson, S. (2018, May 25). Complex Trauma. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/complex-trauma