What Is Trauma?
The word trauma is used a lot these days! Well, good.
Why is that good? Because trauma is the elephant in the room. Trauma is what underlies all the things that are truly hard about human life.
Trauma is why people treat each other badly. Trauma is why people become addicts, and why the ego defense mechanisms we all have, and through which we hurt each other every day, are necessary in the first place. Trauma creates psychopaths, victimizers, and victims.
Let’s face it, humanity, we are not ok. We’re mentally ill, socially isolated, self-destructive, violent, addicted, and disconnected. Whether I’m coping a little better or a little worse than the person next to me, the fact remains that I’m coping.
Coping with what? A wounded soul.
In the mental health context, trauma means psychological wounding.
There are biological parts of trauma – the permanently keyed-up nervous system, the numbing and dissociating, the terrible, indescribable dread.
The body creates these sensations, the way that your screen creates a TV show. Through tiny chemical interactions and electromagnetic signals firing on and off, a message, an experience, a whole show is transmitted to you through the wiring of your nervous system and brain.
But what is the trauma show that your body is broadcasting? Is it a feel-good rom-com, a story of human triumph, a Hallmark channel movie?
Nope, it’s a horror show, a surreal nightmare. How do you feel when you watch a scary movie? That’s right, afraid.
What Is Anxiety?
The clinical word for fear is anxiety. Like all emotions, fear runs a spectrum from soul-annihilating terror to vague, floaty unease.
Anxiety can be so intense as to represent a serious interruption to a person’s ability to live their life and participate in the world. When that’s the case, doctors and psychologists say this person has an anxiety disorder.
The anxiety-disordered person may be given habit-forming anxiolytic medications or, if they’re lucky, steered towards the many holistic solutions for anxiety (yoga, meditation, diet, vigorous exercise, hypnotherapy, time in nature, and creative hobbies are just a few of the widely available options that help with anxiety).
The question might still be asked, though, why are we anxious in the first place? What are we so afraid of?
Why is the body acting as though this is a life-or-death situation when all it is is a phone call from someone I haven’t talked to in a while? Why does my heart pound like I’m in the deep end with the shark from Jaws when someone asks me a question in a work meeting that I wasn’t prepared for? Why can’t I stop thinking, why can’t I breathe deeply, why can’t I relax?
I’ll tell you why: trauma. That’s right – trauma and anxiety are very, very closely related.
How Do Trauma and Anxiety Interact?
Trauma and anxiety are so close as to almost be the same thing. Traumatization, when it shows up at clinical levels, is diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, which used to be classed as an anxiety disorder until it was decided that traumatization deserves its category.
The difference is really that anxiety is a key component of the trauma experience, but not the only aspect of trauma. Anxiety stands alone as a diagnostic category of its own, as a certain flavor of experience that may or may not be mixed with the other aspects of traumatization.
However the distinctions between diagnostic categories are blurry, and the phenomenon of “co-occurring disorders” – in which you qualify for more than one diagnosis – is widespread.
When you throw substance abuse into the mix, things become even more complicated, as substance use creates many problems in the human experience, such as depression, anxiety, brain damage, loss of empathy, and psychosis. In other words, substance abuse creates effects that would earn you a mental health diagnosis if it wasn’t coming from the substance abuse.
Trauma and anxiety are both about fear, and they’re reflections of a tragic aspect of human experience: our inability to feel safe after we were exposed to something damagingly scary that we never quite got over.
How Does Trauma Lead to Anxiety?
When people are exposed to life-threatening events, it shocks the human nervous system. A lot of the time, we can release the shock out of our systems, provided that the event is not too intense, and doesn’t keep happening over and over again.
We can get over a shock, even a big one if we have time, space, and support to feel the feelings, make sense of what happened, and if we come out of the experience knowing that even though that bad thing happened, we are still good, loved, worthy, capable, connected to our loved ones, and safe in this world.
Suppose instead you go through an event and you have no support, connection, love, and understanding to help you make sense of it. In that case, you will likely form one of the following conclusions: this is somehow my fault, I am bad, this happened because of something I did or didn’t do, and I have to figure out how to live differently so that this never happens again. And since I can’t quite figure out how I could have stopped it, it’s at risk of happening again, right now, right here, any time, any place. This is a threat forever.
Whatever the origin, trauma leads to anxiety, because both trauma and anxiety are about having lost your ability to feel fully safe.
What Is Trauma-Induced Anxiety and How Can I Heal It?
Trauma-induced anxiety is anxiety sourcing from shocking experiences you went through at some point in your past. You most likely do not fully remember the events consciously, but the body remembers them and recreates the memories even when you’re in a different situation entirely, sometimes in baffling and exasperating ways.
The symptoms are the same as other forms of anxiety, effects as rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, nervousness, tension, sleep problems, sweating, and trembling. You probably also have some kind of rapid, obsessive, or intrusive thoughts, and feel unsettled, uneasy, full of dread, or even panic.
Anxiety is a symptom of something serious that needs to be healed at the root cause level. The good news is, it can be healed. Yes, it takes some effort, but the difference between living life with a relaxed nervous system versus a keyed-up one is worth however long it takes to restore yourself to sanity.
Villa Kali Ma’s New Offering for Women With Trauma: The Retreat
More and more is learned every day about how to help the human body, mind and spirit recover from traumatization. Wonderful new healing therapies and approaches are offered at more and more facilities.
Villa Kali Ma’s own new residential trauma treatment program, The Retreat, is one option you have available to you if you’re thinking of getting some help for your trauma-induced struggles with life.
The Retreat is offered in service for women who want to retrieve their lives from the nightmare of traumatization, to instead discover how possible it is to create lives of peace, meaning, and human connection.