The secret life of trauma

As a psychotherapist, I’ve come to view trauma differently over the years.

Trauma is not just an upsetting experience that happened in the past.

It’s an ongoing state of feeling unsafe in the present.

The brain gets stuck predicting danger, even when life looks “normal” again.

This stuck state activates our fight-flight-freeze responses.

The symptoms of trauma are the body’s attempts to protect itself from perceived threats.

These automatic survival reactions make sense biologically. Even when they appear disordered to the outside world.

When we can’t relax into “daily life mode”, we get trapped in “danger mode”.

Hypervigilance. Anxiety. Isolation.

These symptoms arise to keep us safe. Or so our bodies believe.

They are adaptations to navigate an environment the brain still registers as hazardous.

Rather than defects, trauma symptoms are messengers signaling unmet needs for safety, soothing and solutions.

They persist because the root cause – unsafety – remains unaddressed.

Recovery requires dealing with this core issue patiently and compassionately.

As therapists, we must respect the wisdom inherent in the symptoms of trauma.

Meet these survival mechanisms with empathy, not judgment or shame.

Guide clients to understand their symptoms as efforts to stay alive amidst distress.

Then, healing can unfold.