When people ask me what I do professionally, I often say I help people resolve trauma. Most respond by telling me about a traumatizing event that they or a loved one experienced, such as a car accident, death of a loved one or emotional and physical abuse. This makes me curious – how is this person defining “trauma”?
Over the years I have heard a myriad of definitions, most of which center on specific, often life-changing, events.
What if I told you trauma is not actually about an event itself, but rather the energy locked in your body around an event? When our body experiences a real or perceived threat, our survival skills kick in faster than the speed of light. The common denominator to all traumatic experiences is that the individual feels overwhelmed and does not feel competent to manage their experience. We all define trauma differently because our bodies decide what is traumatic for us individually, not our brains. Our bodies’ nervous systems are vastly unique and influenced by our genetics, diverse histories and how soon we felt safe after the event. Thus, two people can walk away from the same event with dramatically different outcomes. Something fairly minor to one person can feel catastrophic to another – trauma is not about the event itself, but in our response.
Through these lenses, can we begin to understand trauma differently? Can acknowledge that we all have some trauma locked in our bodies? By doing so, can we as human beings learn how to help others feel safe rather than judge and shame for unhealthy behaviors we may not otherwise understand?
When we sense support and safety within ourselves and/or from others, we can recover quicker and easier from potentially traumatizing events. Before an airplane takes off, you are always reminded to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others. When we can breathe easy, we can help others do the same.
Living with ease and vitality is less about avoiding difficult events and more about cultivating the ability to bounce back. It all begins with safety, and this is the foundation of the work I do.