Trauma is an effect of an experience that overwhelms an individual’s emotional system from processing and releasing the experience itself. Beyond this, in the healing community there is a vast range of definitions for both trauma itself and what substantiates formal diagnosis of lasting trauma. The trauma-informed approach is to base this diagnosis on the subjective definitions of the person experiencing trauma.
Lasting trauma is commonly thought to be the result of severe experiences, such as rape, natural disaster, or combat service, to name only a few. Yet, many people experience the ongoing effects of trauma from less severe experiences. For the creation of healthy communities, it is valuable to acknowledge all of these experiences as traumatic. Any person experiencing untreated self-defined trauma is imprisoned in the past, even if the experience is not externally justified to have lasting effects.
Trauma has the effect dividing a person’s life between the present moment and this past traumatic experience. The two primary ways that the interference of trauma expresses are triggers and filters. Triggers are cued by present-day experiences, sometimes seemingly unrelated, to relive the originating event. This time-traveling by the sufferer will split the attention available for the present moment as these traumatic memories, mental, emotional or body, continue running in the background of daily life.
Filters caused by trauma bring a false theme into a person’s interpretation of life. For example, a person with untreated trauma resulting from sexual violence may experience most men as potential perpetrators. Or the person with untreated combat trauma may orient in relationships from a combative position. These filters alter engagement with life by passing through a falsifying lens, affecting their perception of themselves and all of life that surrounds them. The effects also take form in external life as they influence life with actions stemming from these filters.
Being on a pathway to living our purpose requires that we live fully in the present. Trauma significantly limits our ability to do this. It is critical that if someone is suffering from trauma originating from any event, perceived or actual, receives the treatment necessary to fully bring them back into the present. To do anything less would be a great societal harm as this person’s unique gift in living will not be actualized.
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