Melissa Higgins, LCSW

Showing all posts tagged "Trauma"

Trauma - Lost and Found

In any search to understand traumatic experience one will get lost. Real confidence is needed. Real confidence empowers people to listen to their intuition; a kind of trust in one's intuition is required, in one's instinct and ability to withstand the impact of the search. When I talk about intuition, I’m referring to the small, still voice inside each one of us that can tell us the truth about things. While it takes courage to tune into our intuition and then to trust what it’s telling us, the good news is that the more often we do so, the better it can guide us.

If we want to learn to listen and trust our intuition and if we want to learn to let our heart guide us, we have to first learn to be quiet. We have to learn how to silence our mind. We have to get into the habit of thinking less and feeling more. That wise inner voice inside is always communicating with us. The problem is that it can be hard to hear until we learn how to quiet our mental chatter. Once we can learn to quiet the mental chatter, we can access our intuitive intelligence.

Trauma is both a process and a state of being. It is an experience of everything and nothing at once. It defies words, yet demands expression. Survivors of trauma commonly have difficulty recounting the events they have suffered or witnessed. The central dilemma for many survivors of trauma is that they must tell their stories, and yet their stories cannot be told. Traumatic experiences often defy understanding.

Out of the fragmentation and chaos of the losses caused by trauma, new connections must be made. It requires us to take risks that might put us face to face with our limitations and shortcomings. A significant method for self-protection is the act of forgetting, repressing, and/or splitting off memories of traumatic events. Most of the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be understood as coping mechanisms for individuals living in an environment (either actual or perceived) of danger, harm, and/or neglect in a world stripped of safety, order, and/or meaning.

The individual pays a high price for the chronic repression of his/her natural impulses and over time his/her range of resiliency narrows, his/her access to his/her sensations and feelings is disturbed, and his/her ability to experience life diminishes. In addition, his/her mental acuity, relational flexibility, innate resiliency, and creative, spontaneous expression are all disrupted. In other words, an individuals life energy is channeled into resisting life, thereby sacrificing his/her natural expansion towards life.

Much of trauma theory revolves around waking up to our denied, repressed, fragmented, dissociated and wounded selves, then we can begin the journey of healing and integration. This is the journey from trauma victim oriented around fear, abuse, helplessness and/or neglect, to trauma survivor oriented around empowerment, hope, courage, and recovery. In not acknowledging our pain and fear, we are narrowing our life experience and isolating ourselves even further from the reality of life all around us. Within us all, there is a wellspring of love, compassion, and creativity that grows in this direction towards life.

The Legacy of Trauma Is Long and Wide and Deep

Each person must define traumatic experience for him or herself. It is a deeply subjective assessment. It depends on how threatened and helpless we feel in reaction to an event. We respond to experiences differently. What causes trauma is overstimulation beyond the capacity of our endurance, and endurance capacity varies. Trauma is cumulative and as it builds up makes us vulnerable to further crises. The impact of trauma can be subtle, insidious or destructive.

We don't "get over" trauma; we bear it for a lifetime, finding ways, or not, to integrate the experience into our life. Trauma changes us. And for people who just want life to return to "the way it was", this can be difficult to accept. We are not defined by trauma, but we are certainly marked by it. Trauma is not easy to define. It can be described as the freezing of past and present into a single frozen moment. Traumatic experiences often defy understanding.

Trauma is both a process and a state of being. It is an experience of everything and nothing at once. It defies words, yet demands expression, over and over. It both demands representation and refuses to be represented. The intensity of trauma seems to make it impossible to remember or forget. This intensity which makes forgetting impossible also makes any form of recollection seem inadequate. Often the traumatic event is too horrible for words; too horrifying to be integrated into how we make sense of the world. The intensity of a trauma is what defies understanding and so a description that someone else understands seems to indicate that the trauma wasn't as intense as it seemed to be. Description seems impossible.

If we ignore the trauma, we seem to have neglected an obligation to come to terms with the horror and pain. If we understand the trauma by putting it in relation to other events, we seem to be forgetting the intensity. The dilemma is that we must tell our stories, and yet our stories cannot be told. The traumatic experience is in a sense, timeless. Trauma exists in the forever present. In order to capture the heart of the experience, we must risk another journey back to the trauma. We are both back there and here at the same time; and we are able to distinguish between the two. We remember what happened then without losing a sense of existing and acting now.

We struggle to put our experiences into words. But there are some things that cannot be said. Words seem too inadequate. And yet, it is not okay to state that the horrors of the trauma are too terrible for words and therefore must be left unsaid and unheard. Many emerge from trauma wanting to wanting to talk about what they describe as "unsayable". Despite the content of what is said, what is crucial is that it is said. The significance of sharing a trauma lies not in what is said, but simply that something is said.