the psychology of trauma

what is trauma?

Many view trauma as sudden shock experiences such as a car accidents, burglaries, sexual assault, abortions, sudden loss of a loved one, physical abuse etc. Sudden Shock trauma is referred to as acute trauma. However, research has found that trauma can result from any experience where a person feels a sense of powerlessness to act in the face of a threatening or overwhelming situation. This means that trauma can also result from more subtle frequent stressful situations that cause us to feel overwhelmed and/or powerless.

what happens when we experience a traumatic situation?

When we experience a threatening situation an automatic fight or flight response is activated in order to prepare our body for emergency execution. If we manage to successfully deal with the difficult event, the fight or flight response is deactivated and the memory regarding the event is stored in long term memory stores. When information is stored in long term memory, we can remember the event but are not triggered emotionally. However, if we experience a sense of powerlessness in the face of a challenging situation, our bodily system is unable to complete the fight or flight response and the memory remains trapped in unconscious memory stores. This means that the fight or flight system that is still on-hold then becomes part of our unconscious material. This creates an unconscious state of hyper-vigilance, and as we continue through life this unconscious trauma is triggered by external reminders that are often out of our awareness, which leads to chronic emotional, behavioural and psychological symptoms.

developmental (Childhood) trauma

When the overwhelming situation happened during our youth we speak of developmental trauma, which would include things such as birth trauma,  incubation, divorce, poor parenting, conflict, conditional love and acceptance, neglect, abandonment, sexual molestation, intimidation by school peers or authority figures, or any uncomfortable incidents experienced “at the expense of self”.

acute trauma & ptsd

Trauma experienced during adulthood such as armed robberies, accidents, loss of loved ones, severe relational problems, etc, is referred to as acute or Post Traumatic Stress. This is similar to the effects of developmental trauma in that the experience could not complete its natural fight-flight reaction, leaving us with problems in general flow and connecting comfortably to life (living our sweet spot).

what happens to incomplete trauma?

Unresolved trauma can lead to chronic emotional discomfort (anxiety, depression, extreme stress, angry outbursts, panic attacks etc), behavioral problems and/ or physical discomfort (migraine, ulcers, chronic fatigue, immunological sensitivity, burnout and a variety of other physical dis - eases).

 

There is also the tendency to repeat our childhood relationship trauma by choosing particular partners with whom we play out our early relationship dynamics and eventually end up with the exact feelings that we have not resolved during childhood. We usually keep on repeating this tendency until such time that we resolve our internal trauma.

healing unresolved trauma & symptoms

The focus during the psychotherapy that I practice is to dislodge the internal stuck trauma material and facilitate its natural progression so that it can complete the initial process that it was inhibited from completing during the original trauma event. Once the internal trauma and the associated stuck fight or flight responses complete successfully, the associated trauma symptoms and discomfort reciprocally ceases to exist. These chronic symptoms are replaced by a renewed sense of meaning, connection and wholeness.

For further info on this form of psychotherapy pls click on the following link:  www.ship.org.za 

Get In Touch

Jonathan Gilberg | Clinical Psychologist | HPCSA Registration No: PS0133710 | Practice no. 0730955| 2 Meadow Lane, Hout Bay, Cape Town