Trauma comes in many forms. It affects every person differently. Trauma can be any experience that causes us to have a negative reaction mentally, emotionally, and/or physically.
The misconception that trauma has to be something really big and awful leads to some people’s trauma being minimized. Sometimes people compare traumas. Physical abuse can be perceived to be much bigger than say divorce of parents in childhood or the death of someone close to us.
Trauma is personal. The effects of that trauma are personal.
Each person’s trauma affects them personally and only they know how great that effect is and how it impacts their life.
Many books have been written about trauma and how it presents in the body. One of the most well known and one that I use consistently in my therapy practice is The Body Keeps The Score by Bessel Van der Kolk, MD. This book describes the intricate connection between trauma, the brain, and the body that results in mental, behavioral, and physical costs.
Several studies have also been done on the trauma costs to the body including Negative body experience in women with early childhood trauma: associations with trauma severity and dissociation in the European Journal of Psychotraumatology and The long-term costs of traumatic stress: intertwined physical and psychological consequences in the World Psychiatry journal. These studies detail the connection between trauma, the brain, and body with the mental, behavioral, and physical costs.
The mental cost of trauma can result in the diagnosis of several developing psychiatric illnesses such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and others. Some of these diagnoses can be life-altering in their severity. Another mental cost is the development of negative beliefs about oneself and our perceived responsibility for the things that have happened to us.
The brain is a powerful instrument.
The beliefs or thoughts we have about ourselves can manifest in our behaviors and as physical symptoms in our bodies that can include physical illnesses.
The physical cost of trauma can result in somatic body issues along with the development of physical illnesses. Chronic pain, migraines, digestive issues, reproductive issues, and more can develop out of the connection of trauma, the brain, and the body as described in the above studies.
In my practice, I see mainly girls and women, and their physical symptoms can be almost identical in some cases for those with trauma. Chronic neck and shoulder pain, migraines, digestive and reproductive issues are all common among them. It is too commonly replicated to be coincidental.
The behavioral cost of trauma can be just as costly as the physical and sometimes even be the cause of the physical. Trauma numbing can include substance abuse, self-harm, issues with food, relationship issues, and more. These behaviors can lead to physical illnesses and more trauma reinforcing the trauma narrative.
These behaviors can start at a very early age if the trauma occurred in early childhood and can go on for years before it is recognized and processed. This can lead to a very long road of change and recovery.
How can we stop paying the cost of our trauma? The first step is to acknowledge honestly where our trauma started and begin to process these experiences. A trained trauma-informed therapist can help us understand and be able to talk openly about what has happened to us.
It can be a long process and difficult. We did not get to this place overnight and we will not find a path out overnight. Confronting trauma can also be very emotionally charged. The fact that it is uncomfortable and scary prevents many from seeking help.
The fear of change also keeps many from confronting their traumas. Who will we become if we are not what we have been for years? What will we lose as a result? It can be very scary.
But the cost of not confronting our trauma can be astronomical. It can cost us our mental health, our physical health, and sometimes much more. We can begin to stop paying the price one step at a time.
If you or someone you know is struggling with unprocessed trauma, I urge you to seek out a trauma-informed therapist to begin the journey of recovery. The high cost of trauma doesn’t have to be a lifelong debt.
Trauma may have changed your life, but you do not have to continue to pay the cost every day of your life afterward.
Until next time be well,