Trauma and PTSD

What Is Trauma?

Following a deeply disturbing or threatening event, or trauma, you may feel distressed and overwhelmed. Traumatic events include actual or threatened death, serious injury to oneself or another person, or a threat to the personal beliefs of oneself or others.

Perhaps you think post-trauma disorders are limited to injured armed service members or victims of horrific violence.  This is not true. Many challenging events and happenings in our life — especially in early life — can have a profound effect on our health today.  For example:

  • Personal history of physical, sexual or verbal abuse
  • Physical and emotional neglect
  • A family history of alcoholism, domestic violence, and mental illness
  • The disappearance of a parent through abandonment, jail, death, divorce. 
  • Anxiety or fear of danger to self or loved ones, being alone, being in other frightening situations, having a similar event happen again.
  • Avoidance of situations or thoughts that remind you of the traumatic event.
  • Sleep problems, including getting to sleep, waking in the middle of the night, dreams or nightmares about the traumatic event.
  • Guilt and self-doubt for not having acted in some other way during the trauma, or for being better off than others, or feeling responsible for another person’s death or injury.

Of course, not all trauma is in our past.  It is often a central factor in ongoing illness.  The illness itself often creates feelings of powerlessness in the face of danger. This is the essence of trauma: feeling unsafe, trapped and unable to overcome or escape the threat.

Many, maybe most of us experiencing chronic health problems, have a history of trauma. There is an emerging science (or more properly a coming together of different scientific threads) that establish these things:

  • Trauma in our past has a powerful physiological effect on our bodies today, reflecting in a variety of forms of unwellness;
  • Most people who are in ill health can be helped by directing healing efforts toward correcting those physiological ill effects with changes in diet and supplements;
  • Yet most people will not experience lasting relief until the old trauma is resolved;
  • Conventional insight therapy is not particularly useful at dislodging these old wounds.

How Does Trauma Lead To PTSD?

Alternatively, they may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a long-lasting anxiety response following a traumatic or catastrophic event.

PTSD usually develops within six months of the traumatic event. About half of all adults report experiencing a PTSD candidate event sometime in their lives, but only 10% will develop PTSD as a result, with 3.7% of the population being diagnosed with PTSD in a given year.

PTSD usually develops within 3-6 months of the traumatic event  and involves the following:

  • Re-experiencing the traumatic event in two ways: Images or flashbacks of the traumatic event (reliving the event)
  • Nightmares about the trauma and disturbed sleep
  • Avoiding things, thoughts and feelings that remind you of the traumatic event
  • Difficulty remembering important aspects of the trauma
  • Withdrawal from your friends and family
  • No interest in normal activities
  • Symptoms of increased arousal and anxiety
  • Intense arousal and anxiety when faced with reminders of trauma
  • Having depressed or irritable mood (and getting angry easily)
  • Difficulty concentrating on and remembering other things
  • Having depressed or irritable mood (and getting angry easily)

Having PTSD can be very difficult and can affect relationships, work, and physical health. This is why trauma healing is needed to help you live a positive and fulfilling life.

Somatically Oriented Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy can help

The IFS process of offering non-judgmental respect and compassion to the client’s internal system of parts engages the innate healing wisdom that is the client’s essence (the essence of each of us), undamaged and still whole regardless of life experience.

Somatically oriented IFS recognizes that our parts live in the body, and those that are most hurt and threatened can occupy the part of our brain called the amygdala. From here, when these parts are exposed to a sign of relational danger such a vulnerability to rejection or judgement, they signal activation which puts our autonomic nervous system into its fight, flight, or freeze reactivity. In this way, our system can live a whole life subject to anxiety and depression as a result of the imprint of early overwhelm and hurt. In IFS, we facilitate connection of the client’s essential Self energy to those parts stuck in biological and psychological reactivity to past trauma. Once compassionately connected, parts can be unburdened of old unhealed wounds, invited to update their stories, and come live safely in the present as part of a harmonious internal family.

The fundamental values of IFS differ from traditional models that pathologize natural adaptations to overwhelm. As practitioners of IFS, we recognize the necessity of relational safety and integrity for the healing of parts that were wounded and traumatized in relationship. Together, we access the innate essence of compassion, calm, courage and connection that heals.

Contact us to explore how we might work together to heal unwellness related to trauma.