Healing Trauma: Unlock Yourself From the Ghosts of Your Past
Disclaimer: Some of the writing below is deemed sensitive. Read slowly, and take care of yourself (e.g., go on a walk, sip some soothing tea, watch a TV show, talk with a loved one or friend). This article was first published for Local Health Integrative Clinic.
Have you ever found yourself reenacting a moment or a scene from another time with another set of characters? Maybe it was that cold shoulder you gave to a colleague, or zoning out during a scene of violence in the movie theatre. It is not unusual for us to conjure up or reenact memories from our past. It becomes challenging when these memories are frightening, disturbing, miserable, and/or disgusting, and negatively impact our physical, mental and emotional states.
The distressing memories (or unwelcome ghosts) represent the repetition of the past in the present. When in a reenactment, your body may become numb, unable to move, your concentration may disappear or you might find yourself in a vicious negative thought cycle, and you might suddenly feel empty, hopeless, or stricken by anxiety. These reactions (and numerous others) can be understood as trauma responses.
Trauma presents itself in many ways. Each of you have a unique composition of physical, mental and emotional states that respond to traumatic moments or scenes in distinct ways. When safely exploring traumatic experiences with clients, I use 2 main categories to help start the exploration process around their experience: big T trauma(s) and small t trauma(s).
When most of us think about trauma, we think about the individuals who’ve experienced war, combat, natural disasters, physical or sexual abuse, terrorism, and tragic accidents. These are considered big T traumas. They are often debilitating, emitting powerlessness, or locking us in a private terror. However, we do not have to undergo an overtly distressing moment or scene for it to affect us. The build-up of smaller daily events or less obvious moments can still be traumatic. These are known as small t traumas. They exceed our capacity to cope and cause a disruption in emotional functioning. Some examples of small t traumas are:
Relationship conflict with a partner or child
Workplace conflict with a supervisor or colleague
Starting a new job
Having or adopting a child
Legal or financial trouble
It is worth highlighting that your coping mechanisms vary depending on your physical (injury, level of energy, ability to concentrate), mental (beliefs, perceptions, expectations, values) and emotional (level of distress tolerance, emotional awareness) capacity at the time of the traumatic experience(s).
So… there is hope! Being aware of the impact that an accumulation of small t traumas or even one big T trauma has on your life is being one step closer to relinquishing their power over you. Having a safe space, like in counselling, to unlock yourself from these memories can be so therapeutic in minimizing their reoccurrences. For some, trauma-focused therapy, like EMDR, might help to reprocess and desensitize the traumatic experience(s). As you safely explore your trauma in counselling, their unwelcome ghosts start to disappear. You become your protector, your self-healer, against repeating the past.
Barbash, E. (2019) Different Types of Trauma: small t versus Large t. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/trauma-and-hope/201703/different-types-trauma-small-t-versus-large-t
Fraiberg, Selma, Adelson, Edna and Shapiro, Vivian. 1975. “Ghosts in the Nursery: A Psychoanalytic Approach to the Problems of Impaired Infant-Mother Relationships.” Journal of American Academy of Child Psychiatry, 14(3): 387-421. Retrieved from: http://infantmassage.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/Fraiberg-Ghosts-in-Nursery.pdf