Rachel Sutherland is a Trauma and Abuse Therapist and Coach who helps people move on from their past and reclaim their future so that they can become more of who they really are.
Why is it that when we experience the symptoms of poor mental health after we’ve been traumatised, we tend to assume that there is something wrong with us? The symptoms that plague us often don’t make any sense and can cause us mental anguish, so we assume that we are ‘broken’.
Of course, we can look to medical professionals to ‘fix’ us. And in this process, we may be diagnosed as having some sort of disorder. Or even a handful of disorders!
These diagnoses can bring relief that it’s not all in our heads as we might have previously believed, and they can give us hope that now we have a label for our distress we can be ‘fixed’. Sadly, they also compound the notion that there is something wrong with us.
What if there’s nothing wrong with us? What if we don’t need fixing?
Trauma is subjective, and there’s no rhyme or reason to it. What may traumatise one person could have little or no effect on another. We become traumatised when an event or series of events overwhelms our present capacity to cope – when what happens to us outstrips the resources we currently have available.
An ancient survival system swings into action to protect us from anything of the previously traumatising nature ever happening to us again. If it were not for this mechanism, our ancestors may never have survived!
Our amygdala, located in our survival-based back brain, takes an emotional imprint of the traumatic experience, but while this is happening, we also create a belief that prevents us from behaving in ways that could put us back in a similar situation. These beliefs can create patterns of adaptation that enable us to cope at the time but can then come to work against us later.
The amygdala then goes on to scan our environment for anything like what it has logged and triggers an alarm response to the rest of the mind and body when it finds something even remotely comparable to the original event.
The traumatic event is the problem, not our responses to it.
This response is utterly feasible and completely reasonable. As far as our primitive back brain is concerned, it’s essential for our survival, and our survival is its primary concern.
Far from anything being wrong with us, there’s everything right with us for responding to traumatic events in this way.
The alarm that the amygdala sounds demands we pay attention to it. It’s alerting us to the presence of unresolved trauma.
Fortunately, our world is much more trauma conscious than just a few years ago, and there are many trauma-informed practitioners and therapists equipped to help us heal our unresolved trauma.
There is no ‘one size fits all, and it’s important to choose someone that we feel comfortable with, someone that works in collaboration with us as individuals to help us resolve our unresolved trauma and who can enable us to access the resources we need to begin to heal.
We are not broken when we are experiencing post-traumatic symptoms. It’s important to remember that we are responding in ways that are normal and natural, considering what we’ve been through, and our brains are working perfectly to ensure we are not traumatised in the same way again.
We certainly don’t need fixing; we need help in understanding what has happened to us so we can make sense of our experience and resolve what has so far remained unresolved.