“The pain is there; when you close one door on it,
it knocks to come in somewhere else...” Irvin D. Yalom
Trauma is a completely normal reaction to a situation or experience that is beyond our ability to cope. Trauma can be a single event such as a car accident, a sexual assault, witnessing a violent crime; or it can be complex trauma, where a person has experienced abuse or neglect over weeks, months or even years. Trauma can also be relational, such as with a child who perhaps had a caregiver who was unable to respond to their needs resulting in attachment injuries. Many folks who lived in homes where there was conflict, mental health challenges, or divorce, found that their experience was often quite frightening. For a young brain it's understandable that trauma has a low threshold - as we just don't have the agency or support as a child or the ability to put our experiences and feelings into words.
Many people who have experienced trauma find that their nervous systems are often affected because their brain is trying harder to keep them safe. Our fight-flight-freeze-fawn response is our built-in automatic survival system and when we have experienced trauma, especially trauma in our younger years, those reactions can become very sensitive to triggers. Our brain just doesn’t recognize the difference between a trigger and a real threat and for some people they can become stuck in what seems like a permanent fear response. This fear response can manifest in many ways including anxiety, anger, suicidal ideation, substance use, relationship difficulties, and dissociation.
Symptoms of trauma can include:
A feeling of being permanently on guard or unsafe
Numbness or a sense of disconnection
Nightmares or flashbacks that are disturbing or upsetting
People pleasing, conflict avoidance, lack of boundary setting
Difficulty concentrating on tasks or decision making
Emotional instability and feelings of depression and/or anxiety
A reliance on substances or alcohol to relieve distressing thoughts or to feel calm
Feelings of shame, anger or rage
Physical issues such as digestive problems, conditions related to compromised immune systems, headaches, and chronic pain.
This list is not exhaustive and there is no “normal” way to react to traumatic events but these possible symptoms may speak to you personally.
How trauma counselling can help:
Past experiences of trauma and pain are often kept at a distance because it can seem overwhelming to have to face it. This distance means that we are wearing armour that is heavy and uncomfortable and makes it hard to move through life the way we had hoped for and challenging to connect to people in a meaningful way. Once we start to recognize and acknowledge our fear response, it can not only provide much needed compassion for some behaviours that have been labelled problematic by people in our life, but also gives us the opportunity to start to find safety. This can be through connection with those frightened younger parts of ourselves that developed to try and protect us; gaining understanding about the emotional and physiological impact of trauma; and learning new skills in nervous system regulation to allow for a shift in mental wellness, safety without armour, and a deeper sense of healing.
Some people are concerned that by talking about past pain in trauma counselling it will make things worse. We will never speak about anything that is unsafe for you, but if speaking about a past trauma is important for your healing then we will work toward this goal together and in safety. For some people this isn’t necessary and by focusing on the impact of the trauma on your life today we can establish strategies to calm your nervous system and help your brain start to see the difference between a trigger and a real threat.
"What we cannot hold, we cannot process. What we cannot process, we cannot transform.
What we cannot transform haunts us.” Joseph Bobrow
First Nations Health Authority Clients
For Indigenous clients seeking trauma counselling please note I am honored to be an official provider of mental health services for the First Nations Health Authority programs: Mental Wellness and Counselling; The Residential School Resolution Health Support Program; and The Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls Health Support Services. Please contact me for eligibility information or click here for more information: https://www.fnha.ca/benefits/mental-health
I am a Registered Clinical Counsellor and offer trauma counselling to youth and adults in B.C. through either online therapy, telephone, or in-person sessions in North Vancouver.