If you are asking this question, my reply would be ‘do people without trauma, wonder if they have trauma?’
We feel that trauma is some uniquely designated condition, that must meet certain extremes and prerequisites to be valid.
In my experience, trauma comes from 2 aspects:
Event + our reaction to event = trauma
A simple example would be as follows:
See a bear + have a biological response (release of adrenaline, cortisol, Oxycontin etc.) to run away = trauma
Thus, the simple answer would be that if you’ve experienced an event that triggered your survival response, you may have trauma.
However, we all know that it’s not that simple.
Science tells us that not every person will experience trauma from the same event. Thus, we cannot know what experiences will cause a person trauma or not. It is unique to how your body and mind respond to a certain situation.
You may have an experience that others can tolerate or even think is normal. But given your unique system- you may be traumatized. This is why soldiers in the same unit, siblings in the same family, or bystanders in the same disaster fail to present with the exact same responses.
Science also tells us that our reaction is the biological one. We all know it- fight, flight, freeze. I would argue that there is a further reaction that matters- the one that happens in our conscious brain after the fact.
We make it worse
Often, people don’t understand they have experienced trauma. They don’t understand the cascades of hormones that occur. Instead, they interpret their own actions without knowing the real cause.
For example, our most basic response is always to freeze. This is not always the best response. Thus, after the fact, we can berate and question ourselves for doing nothing in the moment. In reality- we had no choice. Our biology decided that response. Yet our conscious brain will later attribute meaning to that response- we wanted it, we are weak, or we don’t have what it takes to overcome the situation.
This piece, the ‘why’ we build after the fact, this is often the part that truly damages us.
5 steps to start
If you are still asking, ‘have I experienced trauma?’, let us consider a few next steps to move you towards answers:
- Learn about trauma. The more you understand about the neuro-biology of trauma, the easier it is to identify which behaviors are rooted in trauma. Further, it will allow you to understand your behaviors are normal to trauma victims.
- Learn about emotional abuse and codependency. While people who have experienced these behaviors often have trauma, they are their own creatures. Learn about each subject matter. Again, you will come to see that most of your behaviors are completely normal for those struggling with these issues.
- Get support. Resources are necessary to heal. We need information, someone to talk to, support and love. All of these are key aspects to moving forward. Find a friend, as support group, a therapist- someone to help you though.
- Take care of yourself. I know coaches are all about ‘self care’. But this isn’t bubble baths and scented candles. I mean exercise and eating healthy. Becoming physically healthy is imperative to your mental health. Further, exercise will greatly assist in coping and processing emotion. We discuss this at length in my programs.
- Finally, rather than asking, ‘do I have trauma’ perhaps ask, ‘did this experience leave me with a wound?’ If it did, then the answer is to find healing- regardless of what term you use to describe the pain.
I know a lot of this advice seems obvious. One of the biggest lessons I learned in healing is ‘obvious isn’t wrong’. Often, we go ‘well that was obvious’ and then confusing knowing something with doing something. Knowing you should learn about trauma isn’t the same as actually doing so. So please, please, don’t do what I did and just assume an obvious answer can’t help you.
Often its the simplest solution that works.