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Many mental health and relationship problems are caused by unhealed wounds from the past
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2 Types of Past Experiences (that can have long-lasting negative effects)
We now know that many mental health problems, relationship problems, and difficulties with functioning in everyday life are largely influenced by traumatic or overwhelmingly stressful experiences in our past.
According to world-renowned physician and neuroscientist, Bessel van der Kolk, there are 2 types of trauma:. 1) "Big T" trauma and "Small t" trauma. Big T trauma are typically overt and extreme events, such as a car accident, a choking incident, a violent assault, the death of a loved one, or witnessing violence, that can leave you feeling chronically vulnerable, in danger, worthless, or helpless. 2) "Small t" trauma is different in that it is a result of ongoing, more subtle events that can create a sense of worthlessness, shame, incompetence, and defectiveness . Little t trauma is also referred to as ""attachment trauma", "attachment shock", "complex PTSD", "childhood wounding", or "emotional neglect".
Common causes of this type of trauma include ongoing lack of affection, tenderness, understanding from a caregiver, being ignored, 'crying it out' parenting, getting in trouble for having and expressing feelings, bullying by peers, mistreatment from a teacher, having a sick sibling, parental divorce, or experiencing poverty, mysogyny, racism, and/or homophobia. These sources of trauma can be as wounding or more wounding than Big T trauma.
There is no standard definition of a traumatic experience for everyone and each person will be impacted by traumatic stress differently. Even though we experience traumatic stress differently, our bodies respond to traumatic stress in mostly predictable ways. These responses begin to change the way the brain works at the brain stem level (see this video on Deep Brain Reorienting or check out this website for more information) creating a cycle of overwhelm, anxiety, depression, and fear that greatly affect a person's sense of self and others, their relationships, and their quality of life long after the neglectful, abusive, or other overwhelming experiences have ended. Mental health and relationship problems are often a result of unhealed trauma wounding.
Symptoms of trauma wounding include: feeling numb, feeling spacey, lacking joy, few or no memories, black-and-white thinking, avoidance, frequent intense emotions, hypervigilance, mistrust, loneliness, insomnia, unexplained fatigue, rage, insecurity, unexplained physical pain, feeling sad a lot, feeling scared or nervous a lot, difficulty focusing or concentrating, feeling unmotivated, addiction, sleeping too much or too little, low energy, lots of conflict, addiction, difficulties holding down a job or participating in school, difficulty developing or maintaining close relationships, or repeating the same problem patterns over and over again. Anxiety, depression, borderline personality disorder, ADHD, and other mental health diagnoses are often caused by unresolved trauma.
Unresolved trauma wounding, including ongoing and overwhelming stressful experiences in the past and present, requires specialized therapy to heal the trauma wounds. Trauma therapy can't change the past, but it can heal the wounds, symptoms, and problems caused by trauma. EMDR is the preferred therapy for healing trauma, according to most trauma experts. Deep Brain Reorienting is emerging as a promising trauma treatment, too.
For more information on the various sources of trauma, you can search for information on "attachment trauma", "complex ptsd", Gabor Mate, Janina Fisher, Bessel van der Kolk , and Frank Corrigan.
Here are some links to short (under 10 minutes), helpful videos that describe childhood trauma or wounding:
• Trauma Treatment with EMDR - Bessel van der Kolk (Note: Being emotionally neglected is "horrific" for children.)
• 8 Signs of Childhood Emotional Neglect (a potential cause of cPTSD)