Trauma and Traumatic Wounds

Trauma is a deep psychological wound, which ‘disorganises’ the mind. A wound of this kind, if not dealt with, does not heal of its own accord. Whereas a physical wound can be attended to externally, a deep inner psychic wound is invisible and can be ignored or put away by the mind’s system for a long time. This kind of wound affects the emotions, the very bedrock of the human personality and as such it is particular to the individual. The way the emotional system deals with such a wound is different for everyone. The pain it has caused only resurfaces when sufficient time has elapsed for it to feel safe or at highly charged ‘flash’ points in our lives such as movement into adulthood, transitions or changes, which prompts anxieties in everyone.

An individual’s ability to organize emotions directly shapes the ability of the mind to integrate experiences and to adapt to future life events. Any experience we have undergone which is traumatic in nature can therefore confuse the mind and integration is not possible. The mind, in such cases, feels it has to protect us first and foremost before it can integrate such a maladaptive experience. A foundation can be re-built and re-programmed after such trauma, but it takes effort, time as well as conviction that it is a worthwhile thing to do. Asking for help is therefore the start of your journey of accommodating to what happened to you. It may eventually lead to a deeper understanding and a resolution to your experience. The process of acceptance is an important step.

Emotional damage caused by trauma is powerfully primitive and can make us call into question who we are and it is vitally important to pay attention to this. This event or events will have set up a kind of emotional deprivation. This means that whenever you are in a position where you feel threatened, part of what you feel is very physical as well as being powerfully emotional. The body will become ‘flooded’ with adrenaline and with hormones, which is the body’s way of protecting you from the overpoweringly awful moments when you were rendered powerless to stop what was happening to you. It’s the flight or fight mode of our ancestors and belongs to the primitive part of the brain, which responds to danger or threat. The part of the brain we have to tap into after we have made the decision to discuss trauma is the cognitive, more developed part of the brain. This will act as a regulative device to offer a more rational pathway to our internal emotional system.

The younger we are when we have experienced trauma, the more fragile we will feel, especially in childhood or adolescence when the brain is in an active period of growth and development. In early adolescence particularly we are moving away from childhood and trying to forge close relationships which are separate from those we have had as a child or with our parents. If something damaging occurs at this stage, the emotional regulation becomes disturbed and upset. If there was no space to ask for help and comfort or to make use of any supportive arrangements, presumably because of confusion, shame and embarrassment then the mind takes flight and ‘puts the experience away’ as a way of protecting us from more pain. What we needed at the time of course was to be held like a mother holds her baby and helps them to mop up their tears but we perhaps felt too awkward and big to ask for that.

We have little resilience to cope with such an attack upon our body and our very being. Overwhelming feelings cannot be managed by an emerging or fragile emotional system. An experience of trauma can remain dormant inside us for a long, time until it rears it head again. Perhaps this may happen when we are in a natural period of change or transition in our lives which is always stressful for people. The emerging trauma experience combined with the anxiety often associated with change is a potent mix.

Any form of sexual trauma for example, is particularly hard to manage especially in childhood or adolescence, or indeed at any time. The sexual impulse in itself isn’t a polite or well-mannered impulse; it is an urgent one, overwhelming and terrifying particularly if it is non-consensual. It also involves who you are, sexually and emotionally. A violation of this nature shakes the very core of our being.

During the therapeutic process it takes time for the feelings to settle when dealing with trauma. The regulation takes time. Some days you may feel better, some days not so good. The reason why it is important to talk about trauma to someone professionally trained is so that this process of regulation can become firmly embedded inside your emotional system. Therapy is supposed to ‘hold’ you, to help you to ‘contain’ your distressing feelings. A counsellor or therapist is there to learn your language, like a mother learns the language of her child so that she knows how to make the child’s hurt more manageable and safe. This is why it is most important to feel safe. During and after your sessions with your therapist make strenuous efforts to minimize situations where you feel unsafe, look after your emotional regulatory system. Have respect for its ability to heal and make you feel more contented.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge, CB4
Written by Rose Driscoll, Registered member MBACP, MA
Cambridge, CB4

The mind is naturally drawn to feelings and thoughts, that is its nature. It daydreams and worries, it gets bored, it wanders. It is natural for us to experience strong emotional feelings: anxiety, sadness, joy, envy, hatred, anger. if we allow our feelings to come and go then we don't need to worry...

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