Triggers and Trauma

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Triggers and Trauma

Trauma and its aftereffects can resonate through a person’s life.  Something that happened to you years or decades ago can rear its ugly head and shake you up like the intervening years had never occurred. I recently went to the dentist to get my teeth cleaned. From the second I walked in, the sounds and smells and feelings— the sound of scraping, the smell of disinfectant, the anticipation of pain— all sent me reeling. The dental hygienist was as lovely as she was kind, but her kindness did not stop my white-knuckled grip on the armrests. By the time she finished, my heart was racing, my hands were numb from clenching too tightly, and I needed a minute before I could stand. 

Even though I knew for a fact that bleeding gums were the worst I could expect from this visit, my brain refused to believe it. I was sent all the way back to my childhood, where I suffered under the hands of a not so gentle dentist who was not concerned with the comfort of a child. I was experiencing the aftereffects of trauma. 

The nature of trauma is a state of helplessness. Trauma is an overwhelming emotion to a threat or harm, the longer and more impactful that threat, the more disruption to our ability to think, plan or even speak.  That's why offering the language of kindness is so important for someone experiencing or re-living a traumatic event.  What's important is to find a safe place and person who can help you engage your trauma. Your trauma does not look like my trauma. Each of us has a unique story with a unique set of circumstances we have encountered.

Your trauma doesn’t need to be “big” or “devastating” for it to be valid. Your trauma can be as simple as hating to go to the dentist. But you need to know this in the deepest part of your heart: big or small, trauma affects the body, and that makes it a legitimate source of pain that you are more than allowed to seek help for. 

Diane Mitchell, LCC