What Trauma Does to Us

“I’m fine, it doesn’t affect me.”

“It’s in the past, why do I need to talk about it now?”

“I’m not triggered. I’m in control”

“I don’t want to talk about it….”

I tell my clients that having trauma that you’re not dealing with is like having a wound that you’re not cleaning up and taking care of. You keep ignoring it, hoping that it’ll just go away on its own, but instead it festers and gets infected, taking a longer time to heal, maybe not healing correctly or at all, giving you a constant reminder of the pain. When you were a kid and fell down, scraped up your knees, what did your parents do? They helped you clean it up. Maybe rinsed it with water to get the dirt/gravel out, maybe put some ointment on it and a bandaid. It didn’t feel good to clean it up, did it? It stung, almost hurt as bad as getting banged up in the first place, but you knew you had to clean it up in order for the wound to heal. Trauma needs to be treated too. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always feel good to talk about the past and your pain in therapy, but that’s how we clean out the wound.

When we experience negative events, our brains process the information and create networks that help us navigate future events. We learn from our experiences. For example, if you were to touch a hot stove and burn your hand as a kid, you learn “hey, if that thing is hot, I shouldn’t touch it! Check to see if it’s hot before getting near it!” In a lot of ways, this is super helpful to us, we learn lessons to keep us safe. But sometimes messages get mixed up, and an unhelpful lesson is learned instead. An example of this might be- getting a low grade on a test. A helpful lesson learnedfrom this experience might be “Well, I’m disappointed with my grade, but now I know I need to probably read the textbook and study a little harder next time.” An unhelpful thought might look like “Ugh, I failed this test, I am a complete failure. Why bother trying next time?” That may seem a little extreme, but our minds can sometimes be our worst critics.

Another example might be growing up in a house where it wasn’t always safe. Maybe mom and dad used to fight a lot, maybe they were super critical, maybe showing emotions was unacceptable. We gather information from all of these experiences and we internalize messages such as “I can’t trust those who are supposed to take care of me” or “If I show my emotions, that means I’m weak and I’ll be rejected”. Although we might be able to logically tell ourselves that those thoughts are untrue and/or unhelpful, it’s really hard to untangle the messy network of negative thoughts that those experiences may have created for us. They sneak up on us and affect the way we interact with others and the world around us. They’re the scar that’s left behind by the wound we haven’t cleaned out.

Well, crap. What do I do now? Where do I even start to deal with this stuff from my past, that I’m still pretty sure doesn’t have that big an effect on me? My “trauma” wasn’t even that big, why can’t I just move on?

Good questions, I’m glad you asked! I know I’m totally biased, but go to therapy! Seriously. Talking to an objective person who is trained to help you safely explore your trauma will clean out that wound and get you on the path toward healing. Unfortunately there’s no magic pill or thing that a therapist could say to make your trauma disappear from memory, but they can help you make meaning of the experiences you’ve had and through hard work and determination, create more helpful, resilient cognitions to improve your life. Nothing is more rewarding for me as a therapist than to see a client have a lightbulb moment, when they recognize that their negative thoughts DON’T define them, and they’re able to live a happier, fuller life.

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10700 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, Building 3, Suite 560
Beaverton, OR 97005

erin@blackbirdcounseling.com
(503) 389-5894

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