By Maddie Lukens, MA
“How do you cope?”
These are phrases and words you may have heard spoken aloud or posted on social media. As mental and emotional health continue to work their way to the center stage of many of our conversations it’s important to know what exactly people are talking about when they mention things like “feeling triggered” or “trauma.”
While I was in graduate school I learned a very basic definition of trauma that has stuck with me to this day – it is simple, however, it encompasses exactly what trauma is and how it affects a person:
“Trauma is defined as anything a person is not prepared to handle.”
As humans, we are going to have harmful experiences. Sometimes, however, there are things that happen outside of our control and we do not have the means or the resources to cope with those experiences. When this happens we are left with the “legacy” of what happened to us – this “legacy” often shows itself in how we continue to be impacted relationally, mentally, emotionally and even physically throughout our lives, if we do not take the time to heal from and resolve our trauma.
A child who is often yelled at by their parents and remembers those ongoing interactions into their adulthood. Perhaps this grown adult interacts with others in an aggressive way, maybe they shy away from confrontation or they avoid conflict altogether. Whatever this adult does, they realize as a child they were impacted by someone else’s behavior, they did not have the resources to handle those ongoing interactions, and how as an adult they do not know how to communicate in a healthy way with others.
Here is an Example of the “Legacy” of this Person’s Experience:
“Legacy” → childhood experience (being yelled at often) → responds in the only way a child knows how (gets quiet or yells back) → does not have the opportunity to learn healthy communication (often yelling to get what they want) → as an adult utilizes aggressive communication to get what they want (may turn into verbal abuse or someone not being able to keep a job because of their “temper”).
Three Definitions to Work with:
1. PTSD – Post-traumatic Stress Disorder – a disorder that someone develops after witnessing first or second hand a terrifying or life-threatening event. Most commonly people associate PTSD with people who have served in the military or police force (which is common), however, people who have experienced natural disasters, have been abused, assaulted, manipulated or otherwise coerced into doing something they don’t want to do can also develop PTSD.
2. Trigger – This is a term used in psychology to define a “starting event” that takes someone back to the place when they first experienced a harmful event. Think of a trigger as the start of something. For some people when they feel triggered/experience a trigger they might feel sad, begin to feel anxious, feel claustrophobic, or get angry/irritable.
3. Cope (verb) /Coping Skill (noun) – When a person copes, they are able to better manage their own reactions in any given moment. A coping skill is something that is developed and learned over time. As you work with a counselor you will learn a plethora of coping skills that you can rely on in different moments when you feel anxious/angry/depressed/etc.
Life is challenging and many of us experience things that are outside of our control or are harmful in some way. Instead of reliving these experiences over and over or letting the legacy of these experiences continue to distract you from fully enjoying life, you can find freedom. There is hope. You are not alone.
Talking with a professional counselor and learning more about how you’ve been impacted by your harmful experiences is an excellent place to start. At Lime Tree Counseling our counselors offer PTSD counseling, online counseling, and Anxiety counseling in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. If you are interested in learning more about the freedom and healing you are worthy of, feel free to reach out today.