BIG TRAUMA/LITTLE TRAUMA IS AT
THE ROOT OF MOST OF OUR PROBLEMS
There is growing recognition within the healing professions that trauma (as well as stress/distress) is not only held in the psyche, altering our perception of reality, it is also held in the body. Traumatic life experiences, both physical & emotional are significant factors in the development and/or maintenance of most problems found in health care. 75% of requests for medical care are linked to the actions or consequences of the accumulation of stress/trauma on the human body.
According to The American Psychological Association, the majority of office visits to the doctor today involve stress-related complaints, and stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver, and suicide.
WHY HOW WE ARE PREDISPOSED TO HANDLING STRESS
IS AT THE BOTTOM OF ALL OF NOT ONLY OUR EMOTIONAL/MENTAL PROBLEMS,
BUT MOST OF OUR PHYSICAL PROBLEMS AS WELL!
This tree represents how the amount of trauma or stress/distress we experience in our earlier lives greatly influences and creates the “roots” of our emotional and behavioral foundation for the rest of our lives. From our distressful experiences come our negative thoughts, beliefs and perceptions about ourselves. These negative beliefs branch out and create our negative feelings causing our Anxiety, Depression, Fear, Anger/Rage, even some of our Physical Pain, etc. The Leaves of the tree represent our dysfunctional behaviors, (i.e., overeating, drug/alcohol abuse, working or shopping too much, being a Perfectionist, a People Pleaser, etc., to mention only a few) which are attempts to cover up or avoid our negative feelings.
What is meant by “trauma”?
Webster’s Dictionary defines trauma as “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from mental or emotional stress or physical injury”. When we think of trauma or of someone being traumatized, we usually think of the bigger forms of trauma that result from a major accident, disaster, or tragedy. This is the type of trauma that is referred to as “T”, or Big "T" traumas. These forms of trauma are perceived as life threatening or able to effect one’s life dramatically. Some examples of events causing this type of trauma would be natural disasters, accidents, rape, witnessing violence, physical injury, physical, sexual and/or even more extreme emotional/verbal abuse, etc. These traumas can lead to debilitating symptoms such as nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, phobias, fears, as well as difficulties at home and work, with extreme cases leading to clinically defined disorders such as P.T.S.D. (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), or other clinically defined anxiety or depressive disorders. Some examples of negative self-beliefs that develop from these bigger traumas are, “I’m not safe in the world”, “I’m in danger”, “I’m going to die”, etc.
However, the majority of trauma we experience in our lives does not come from these larger, more dramatic events. Most of the trauma we all experience in our lives comes from the “t”, or little "t", more personalized traumatic events which are more insidious. These events, usually experienced in our childhood, have negatively altered our sense of self in some way, and influence how we feel about ourselves and how we interact in the world around us. These experiences caused us emotional pain, humiliation, or shame, giving us a lesser sense of self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-efficacy. Being chastised or judged unfairly by our caretakers, (no matter how well intentioned they may have been), being humiliated in the classroom, difficulties with peers, losses due to death or others moving away, chaotic family dynamics, divorce, abandonment issues, etc., are examples of little “t” traumas. Some examples of self-beliefs that develop from these “t” traumas are “I’m not deserving”, “I’m not lovable”, “I’m stupid”, “I’m not good enough”, "I don't deserve", "I'm a failure", "I'm not worthy", "I am less than", etc.
Everyone experiences trauma or distress of some kind during our childhoods as well as when we are adults. I will use myself as an example. When I was 8 years old, I almost drown in my hometown lake. I was going down for the third time which, even at that age, I was aware that I would die if somebody didn't come in for me. Obviously, I was eventually pulled out and I was very thankful indeed. However, from that point on, for decades, I never went out swimming over my head, and when I did swim, I would swim very fast in short spurts, convincing myself that I did so because it was the best way to get good exercise. When I went to the E.M.D.R. training a number of years ago, I processed this trauma of my almost drowning and realized only then that my quick spirts of swimming were caused by my being afraid of sinking, linking back thirty years to that time when I was 8 years old. After I processed and released that trauma at the training, I went into the local lake the next day and not only went out over my head while swimming, but I swam all the way out to the dock in a very leisurely manner, and did so amongst some very thick and slimy weeds that had grown to the surface of the water.
Such is an example of negative thoughts/beliefs causing negative feelings causing negative behaviors (for a big portion of my life). This near drowning trauma, and my not being able to enjoy swimming for decades, was the result of a rather simple/single trauma (not discounting it's large and long term effect of me). After I processed this trauma, in one session, I released the negative thoughts (fear/anxiety), the negative beliefs (that "I'm not safe in the water" and "I'm going to die"), and the negative behaviors (not allowing myself to enjoy swimming). Immediately after processing with E.M.D.R. (Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing) this trauma I was able to swim normally.
Another single event trauma that I was able to process/release at this E.M.D.R. training was the event (or repetition of the same event) that caused my claustrophobia, which I felt was rather severe for me at times. To give you some background on my claustrophobia, I took the E.M.D.R. course at an old camp grounds setting and opted to camp out in a tent during my week of the training. The first night I was there I opened up the front flaps of my tent to get to look at the stars as I fell asleep. During the night I woke up because the dew from the night air that was falling on me was getting me pretty wet. Rather annoyed by the wetness, I overcompensated somewhat and closed the flaps tight. Very soon I woke up with this incredible panicky feeling, feeling very closed in and thinking I had no air to breath. I unzipped the tent flaps as fast as I could to get some air to breath. If I had a knife I would have cut myself out of the tent to relief myself of this panic.
Then, the very next morning, I went to take a shower in the showers provided by the training facilities. Again, they were showers that the campers used to use when it was a camp grounds so they were smaller than the shower I was used to at home. When I got in the shower, it seemed to be particularly close and, with the shower running, I only had one small space off to my left side to breath air without getting my mouth and nose full of water causing me to panic. At one point I felt like I was in a coffin with little air left to breath. I cut the shower short, got dressed and later talked about these two incidents in class when the instructor asked for volunteers that had a phobia they wanted to work on. My instructor said I easily qualified and I became the demonstration for the others in this training.
While processing this trauma, I focused on my feelings of claustrophobia while thinking of these two incidents when I particularly felt claustrophobic. The process took me back to a childhood trauma. When I was about 9 y.o. I was hospitalized for a severe case of kidney disease (so severe they told my mother that I could die) and had to spend considerable time in the hospital to have it treated. The treatment consisted of three daily needle shots into my butt over a period of a number of weeks. It became quickly apparent to me that the more I got the shots, the more they seemed to hurt, especially because they were running out of fresh spots on my butt to give me the needles. So, when I saw the nurse coming to my bed with a another needle for me to take, I began to get quickly agitated and refused, at first, to take any more needles. This behavior was, as you could imagine, very short-lived because it quickly became routine for the nurse to bring 4 other hospital workers with her, to hold me down at each appendage until she gave me the shot. This procedure happened repeatedly three times a day times the four or five weeks that I was in the hospital.
This trauma (or series of the same traumatic event) that caused my claustrophobia was processed in one session and the claustrophobia that resulted from that traumatic experience was gone FOREVER! That evening I intentionally slept with all of the flaps in my tent closed tightly to test if the claustrophobia I experienced the night before had truly gone away. And, to my amazement, it did go away. As a matter of a fact, despite sleeping on a hard ground with all the flaps tightly closed, it was one of the most relaxing, comfortable sleeps I had had in some time up to that point. And, when I took a shower that morning in the same shower as the day before I experienced it totally differently. There was more than enough room to shower, to breath, to stretch out, etc. and I had no ill effects during that shower or any shower thereafter.
You may be asking, "What do these stories have to do with Depression?" Again, Depression is brought on by one's negative thoughts and beliefs. Traumas like the ones I have just described cause our negative thoughts and beliefs. And, the more traumas we endure in our lives the more negative thoughts and beliefs we accumulate. These negative thoughts and beliefs then cause negative feelings which, in turn, create negative/dysfunctional behaviors.
An example of a more complex trauma and one that caused a major negative belief in me and wreaked havoc in my life for close to 40 years was my belief that I was stupid. The crazy thing about this belief is it started when I was 10 years old or so and going from 6th grade into 7th grade. My mother and stepfather found out from my school that I was going into the Honors Program in 7th grade because I had done so well in elementary school. My stepfather was particularly miffed when he heard the news. We didn't get along well to begin with since he married my mother when I was five, and this just seemed to put him over the top. His sons were older than me and both were in high school vocational programs. My older real brother was in College Prep and my going into an Honors Program just seemed to be too much for my stepfather. From that point on, because of his insecurity with the situation, he found a way to call me stupid or show me that I was stupid in some way or another which seemed to be an average of five times a day. This constant barrage "made me feel" more and more stupid as the years went by (even though the incredible irony was that the whole thing started because I was so smart and going into an Honors Program). So, in 7th grade I was in Honors, in 8th grade I went to a "lower" class (pre-honors). In 9th grade I went even lower to college prep. As I continued through high school I sank lower and lower in my academic standing until by the end of 12th grade my guidance counselor said I would be lucky to get into a trade school of some kind. It took me four colleges and twenty years to get my Bachelor's Degree (at 40 yrs. old).
At forty I was back on top, getting into Columbia University after achieving Summa Cum Laude in Social Work in the last college I attended to get my Bachelor's Degree. And, I was also listed in Who's Who of American Colleges and Universities that year because of my accomplishments. However, when I graduated from my Social Work program I still didn't attend my graduation. I didn't give that great accomplishment to myself then. Three years later I went to the Columbia University book store, bought myself one of those tassels that go on a graduation cap and hung it on my mirror in my car. This was when I was 43 years old. And, I still don't pick up a book to read just for enjoyment.
I tell this story because it is the epitome of what a negative belief can do to someone, even though the negative belief was not true at all. As a matter of fact, the truth was the complete opposite of the negative belief that I was stupid. What started me on the path of believing that I was stupid started when my stepfather got jealous and systematically conditioned me to think I was stupid when he heard I got into the Honors Program in 7th grade.
In the beginning of this section, I called this a more complex trauma. By that I mean that it was my stepfather's systematic abuse over years that made me "lose" my intelligence. To let go of this complex series of traumas, it took a lot more than one or two E.M.D.R. sessions to let go of the trauma, therefore letting go of the negative belief of being stupid. Since then however, I have learned how to do Brainspotting, which is an evolution of E.M.D.R., discovered by a then expert of E.M.D.R., Dr. David Grand. Brainspotting turns out to be far quicker, easier and much more effective in its application and I have been able to help others release such complex traumas and negative belief systems in far less amounts of time (sessions) and money for the clients. As a matter fo fact, even though I still use E.M.D.R. along with Brainspotting, I use Brainspotting as the preferred modality by far because of its incredible overall effectiveness and ease.
So, depression is anger turned inward, anger about all the negative thoughts and beliefs we have about ourselves, anger at not being "good enough", anger at not being deserving or being worthy, anger at being a failure or feeling less than you want to be, angry at not being loved the way you wanted to be or the way you felt that you should have been, etc., etc., etc. The list of reasons why we are anger at ourselves goes on and on, depending on your life circumstances while growing up. Depression comes from these beliefs we end up with as a result of all the traumas and distressful experiences we had. The more complex series of negative events that were reflected back to us in our lives the more we dislike ourselves over time. Because of this, we take on the need to talk negatively to ourselves, more and more, until we do it all the time. Did you know that the average person has something like 60,000 negative thoughts per day and about 80% of those thoughts are negative. And that's the average person. So, if you are more depressed than the average person, you are somewhere above this 80% of negative thoughts per day.
For most of us, the more traumatic or distressful material you process and then release, the less depressed you will be. And once you release this negative material it will be gone FOREVER!!
Stress can be defined as a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from demanding circumstances. Everyone experiences stress but recent research has found that everyone experiences it in their own particular way. Stress is specific to the perception of the holder of the stress.
Our perception is based on our thoughts and beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. Our thoughts were very much influenced by the feedback of the significant others in our lives as we grew up. So, how we handle stress today has a lot to do with how we were taught how to handle stress, one way or the other, during our upbringing.
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