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The Truth about Trauma: Why Asking for Help May be Difficult but Worthwhile

By Tiffany Douglas, LCSW

Trauma—a word that, on its own, can sound rather frightening.  When someone experiences a traumatic event in their life, it can have a direct and damaging effect on the individual as well as those around them.  One of the questions I get asked frequently is, what do I consider trauma. The truth is, trauma is relative; therefore, I cannot define what is or is not traumatic in someone’s life. That is For instance, if I stub my toe on the corner of a desk and it is the most scarring and painful thing that has ever occurred in my life, I could define that as traumatic.  However, if I were to tell this to someone that is a triple amputee, their definition of trauma may be drastically different. Trauma can manifest differently in individuals and having a safe and comfortable place to work through it is extremely important. Oftentimes when working with family members, they carry a sense of invalidation in that, because they have never encountered a combat zone like their spouse, what they have experienced would not be considered traumatic.  The same can be said for a veteran who has not had any combat experience; as well as clients that describe their childhood much like a war zone.

Getting help with trauma can be a difficult process. For many, it can inflate anxiety just by thinking about opening up and dealing with the event(s) that may have been suppressed for years.  Truth is, however, that the longer it is left unspoken and undealt with, the more acute and intense the symptoms become. The process can seem quite cyclical for some, in that things begin to go well and you start feeling better. Then, something may happen- like someone getting too close to you at the grocery store- and all of a sudden you feel back at square one. Because of this trigger, you respond by developing anger and irritability. Now, you go back to struggling to get through the day, feeling the need to be cautious with every move. Calming yourself and trying to push through the day becomes your priority.

June is not only Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness Month, but this year we also find ourselves in a transition period due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This unprecedented event can make it especially hard for those that have PTSD to seek help. It is natural in a pandemic to feel anxious, depressed, or hyper vigilant to the things happening around you. Combining that with PTSD, symptoms can be exacerbated. Please know you are not alone during this pandemic; we are here to help you.

We all have heavy loads we are carrying and having the ability to talk to someone about the load, no matter the size, can be especially helpful. Therapy is here to help you understand your maladaptive coping skills and find healthy ones that will work. Therapy can seem intimidating, but your therapist will be there to help you process though your trauma in a safe place. By being committed to the process, you can return to being the person you miss, or the person you did not know existed.

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