Trauma – what is it and how it can affect us.
What is trauma?
Trauma is a response to an event or experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. Trauma can be the result of a one-off event or ongoing experiences.
Events and experiences that can lead to trauma are wide ranging and include physical injury or illness, being involved in an accident, abuse, loss, bullying, adverse childhood experiences, divorce/relationship breakdown, loss or change of job, natural disasters, world events, rejection, infidelity, financial hardship, moving home, strained relationships with family or friends, home or work environment that feels unsafe, burnout, chronic stress.
Trauma can also be the witnessing of an event as well as the experiencing of an event for example witnessing violence or abuse.
Everybody is different and we all respond to events differently depending on our previous experiences, support networks, resilience, lifestyle, what else we have going on so the same event may not affect people in the same way. Whatever the event or experience that led to the trauma the feelings and experience of trauma are valid. Sometimes the effects of trauma are noticed soon after the event and sometimes they aren’t recognised until sometime later or until triggered by another event. Sometimes trauma is buried for years, even decades.
Various events or experiences trigger the body to go into a fight, flight or freeze response and that response can stay with us and be triggered by other events.
Trauma can lead to long term changes in the body, physically and emotionally and to disconnecting from ourselves and those around us.
In recent decades there has been a lot of work done around trauma and its effects and it has become clear that emotional trauma is widespread.
How can trauma affect us?
Trauma can affect us in all areas of our health and wellbeing.
Unresolved emotional trauma can also affect our physical health and impacts our immune system and inflammatory responses, our digestive system, increased risk of heart disease and stroke.
Unresolved trauma can also lead to anxiety, panic attacks, shame, depression, eating disorders, addiction, dissociation, sleeping problems, hypervigilance, flashbacks and self-harm.
Trauma can also start previous problems resurfacing or make existing problems worse.
Experience of trauma can make it difficult to regulate emotions, to connect with people and form and maintain relationships, it can be difficult to trust people and to feel safe. Unresolved trauma can also affect our self-esteem and sense of self-worth.
Healing from trauma.
We cannot change what has happened but it is possible to heal from trauma. We can unlearn the survival responses we developed and retrain our biological and emotional responses. We can learn to work with our nervous system instead of fighting against it and reconnect our mind and body – building physical, mental and emotional resilience.
Healing requires a whole body approach – physical, mental, emotional. Depending on the effects of the trauma different approaches may be useful including therapy, counselling, coaching, self-help. It can also be useful to connect with others who have experienced trauma.
What is trauma informed coaching?
Trauma informed coaching is not therapy, it is awareness and understanding of trauma, recognising how it can show up and how to move forward in a solution focussed and forward focussed way. Trauma informed coaching aims to build resilience, work with the mind-body connection, build regulation of the nervous system and promote health and wellbeing. Coaching can also be helpful alongside therapy or following a period of counselling or therapy.