There are some life events that change us fundamentally. While it’s natural to wish them away, it isn’t realistic or helpful. Trauma — an experience of acute danger, pain, horror, or distress that one cannot control — affects our bodies, our thoughts, and our feelings. Trauma experienced in childhood changes the brain, hormones, growth patterns, and every other aspect of a person. The effects of trauma can manifest in many ways, including anxiety, depression, social anxiety or withdrawal, anger, and problems with intimate relationships. Recovery from trauma, and the ability to integrate the experience is profoundly affected by the emotional environment a person exists in. When that environment is not sufficiently supportive, it postpones the opportunity to heal.
One of the challenges of working with trauma is that everyone’s needs are different. Some find it extremely useful to recount the critical event(s) in detail, sometimes more than once. Others find that too painful as it immerses them in the traumatic material, and prefer a softer approach. No matter what, therapy for trauma has to move slowly, with an emphasis on trust and a constant demonstration that you are in charge of the process. Learning to feel safe in the world again begins in therapy, as you and your therapist collaborate in the process of learning how to work with your feelings and responses, ultimately giving you back a sense of mastery and purpose.
The experience will never go away, but with time and skillful intervention, the shock of it can. You can learn how to calm yourself when you are “triggered” by circumstances that in some way are reminiscent of the trauma. You can learn to recognize when traumatic thinking or expectations are hijacking you, preventing you from experiencing the present moment. You can develop skills for regulating your physical, psychological, and emotional reactions.
One of the universal experiences of trauma is loneliness and a sense of separation from others. Accompanying this is the feeling that no one really knows you, and uncertainty about how to relate to yourself and others. Another common response to trauma is to find some way to blame yourself. “I shouldn’t have been there, I shouldn’t have done that.” While this thinking makes sense as a defense mechanism (we can talk about that in person); not only is it untrue, it creates additional grounds to feel bad about yourself.
We welcome the opportunity to help you un-pack your traumatic experience, your reactions to that experience, and the way you have carried those forward. We will help you make peace with yourself, accept the changes, and become active in an intentional process of re-claiming comfort in your own skin here in Madison and in the world. We also offer EMDR, an evidence based intervention for PTSD.