Trauma. We hear this word a lot, especially in this field of work. But what is trauma, exactly? If people who have lived through trauma are going to heal and if the people working to help want to be “trauma-informed,” then it starts with an understanding of the concept.
The dictionary definition of trauma is “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” Author Judith Herman says it is, “characterized by feelings of intense fear, helplessness, loss of control, or threat of annihilation.” And, perhaps most insightfully, therapist Peter Levine states, “Trauma is based in the individual’s perception of the event and does not have to come from a huge catastrophic event.”
The same way that two people involved in the same car wreck can sustain different injuries, two people can go through the same experience and come through it with different emotional effects. It does not say anything about either individual, other than that they had two different perceptions of that event. In fact, for every person involved in an experience, there will be that many perceptions of what happened.
Trauma often happens after something abnormal - such as a wreck, an assault, abuse, or a natural disaster - happens to us. If we start to find our recollection of the event has gaps in it, if our memory is episodic as if in camera flashes, if we find it hard to keep up with everyday tasks, if we find ourselves to be far more jumpy than normal - these are all typical reactions to experiencing trauma. Whatever our reaction may be, it is important to remember that we are having normal responses to the abnormal event.
The main thing to understand about trauma is that something outside of our control happens and then our minds and bodies start to work to help us cope with that. There is help to work through the trauma. The Knoxville Family Justice Center has counselors who are trained to work with individuals who have encountered family violence. You can call 865-215-6865 to talk with someone about how to get an appointment or a referral to another trauma-informed program.
Amy Dilworth is the Executive Director of the Knoxville Family Justice Center. She is a licensed professional counselor and mental health service provider, specializing in trauma-informed therapy for family violence.