As a trauma specialist, I’ve worked with clients with many types of trauma. Some clients can name the traumas they have experienced that are bringing them to therapy: a car accident, a physical assault, combat, or particular episodes of childhood abuse. But many other clients cannot name their traumas. Rather they come to therapy with other issues.
- Recurrent depression or anxiety
- A vague sense that something is wrong with them
- Persistent relational difficulties
- An addiction they’re finally ready to address
- A growing list of physical symptoms that physicians have been unable to adequately treat, etc.
When I meet a client in this second category, my mind inevitably goes to trauma. Now that could be because I am a trauma specialist and can spot it when others may not. However, the reality is trauma often underlies other conditions. As I interview new clients, I’m listening for certain markers indicating they likely experienced trauma, particularly in early childhood.
Markers Indicating Possible Trauma
- Gaps in memory of childhood events (e.g. “I remember all of my grade school teachers’ names except for 3rd grade. It’s like there’s a blank there for the whole year.”)
- Bonding difficulties or enmeshment with a parent. And/or the lack of a reliable adult person experienced as a resource during childhood
- The presence or occurrence in the person’s childhood home of violence, addiction, mental illness, or divorce
- A history of childhood asthma
- Current extreme sensitivities, such as to sound, light, smells, touch, chemicals, foods, etc.
- Difficulty tracking the internal, “felt sense” experience (e.g. “I don’t know how I feel.” The person expresses an emotion, but can’t describe the sensations of it in the body.)
- Paradoxical responses to medications and other treatments (i.e. it works for the vast majority of people, but not for this person). And/or significant side effects experienced with medications, even at sub-therapeutic doses.
- The presence of unexplained or complex medical symptoms and/or disorders such as chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, IBS, Crohn’s, autoimmune disorders, etc.
- Abrupt, big responses to stimuli (e.g. an emotion or physical pain appears and escalates quickly, seemingly out of nowhere)
- “Stuckness” in the autonomic nervous system that sometimes alternates (e.g. “I’ve always been depressed,” “I was so overwhelmed every day this week that I ended up in bed sleeping all weekend,” etc.)
- Addiction or compulsivity that started fairly early in life
Did you find yourself in some of these items? That could be a clue that trauma has affected your life. If you are disturbed by this, you may want to stop reading this post. Take some time to gently tend to your response.
This is not an exhaustive list. And just because you have some of these markers doesn’t automatically mean you’ve experienced trauma. A person doesn’t have to have all of these markers, but the more they do, the more likely that trauma is a playing a part in what’s bringing them to therapy.
In my 15+ years as a therapist I’ve observed that unless underlying trauma is addressed, the problem bringing the person to therapy generally will not stay “fixed.” Instead they recur. That’s because trauma re-shaped the person’s nervous system to “over-respond” in a fight, flight, freeze, or submit pattern in the here and now, even though that may not fit current circumstances. My role is to find the trauma(s) or pattern of traumas and heal them, so that the client’s nervous system can find its way back to regulation and ongoing self-correction.
If you suspect that trauma may be playing a role in your life, contact us at Life Care Wellness so that your healing can begin.
~ Rhonda Kelloway, LCSW, SEP