Can we be traumatized even if we’ve had a “nice” life?
People often think we have to suffer from childhood abuse or the war to have trauma. However, this is not true.
Trauma is caused by being overwhelmed and feeling powerless. While the concept is relatively subjective, some good examples are that when we’re young and vulnerable, many things, such as removing love or harsh criticism, can seem existentially threatening.
The truth is none of us get through life without these types of experiences, and we all have “trauma” to some degree.
Let’s review a simplified version of the trauma scale using a personal example, how you can create your trauma timeline through journaling, and some general trauma misconceptions and symptoms to watch out for.
The Trauma Scale
Speaking from personal experience, in 2019, I had the pleasure of working with an Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Practitioner with the core objective of processing trauma-related events throughout my life.
In our first two sessions, we created a trauma timeline from prenatal to 2019. Within the timeline, we assessed and prioritized the most significant trauma impact upon my life to the smallest and used the timeline to direct us on where to begin the work. We jumped around the timeline and moved back and forth until I could manage and accept my trauma without becoming overwhelmed or painfully relive the circumstance each time I thought about it.
While I have written extensively about EMDR and have included reference links at the bottom of the story, the purpose of today is to review the timeline process and dig deeper into the trauma concept.
To provide you with a visual, here is a condensed version of my trauma scale, beginning with prenatal to 39 years old.
While working alongside the EMDR practitioner, for each traumatic memory, I assessed the intensity of the painful situation from 1–10. I recognize the process is purely subjective, and in my experience, the death of my cat Virgil, while a hurtful memory, feels less so when compared to the death of a relative at age 37. My experience is unique to me, including the pain threshold.
All this to say, the trauma timeline is revealing not only for the EMDR practitioner but also for the client to understand better where to focus immediate attention and how the accumulation of trauma affects who we are today.
Create Your Trauma Timeline
While there are many different types of trauma scales depending on the clinical modality used between a therapist and client, the above-simplified version can be replicated through personal journaling.
If you are interested in evaluating your life and exposing trauma, consider writing your timeline. You do not need to start from day one of your life; allow the memories to appear in your mind and plot along a timeline. As each memory moves to the surface of your mind, gauge the level of pain you re-experience and indicate between one to ten. One being the lowest and ten the highest. Make note.
I am the first person to tell you; the timeline experience is not a fun activity — it’s painful to relive hurt over and over again. While creating a timeline is helpful to know where to draw your attention to first, the next step in the journey is to find the right professional help to let go of the trauma.
Since trauma embeds itself within our bodies, seeking assistance with a trained trauma professional will do worlds of wonder in the healing process, far beyond what we can accomplish if we try and attempt the steps on our own.
Trauma Misconceptions And Symptoms
People think trauma shows up like flashbacks and nightmares, or even severe behaviors like not leaving the house. Still, more often, it manifests as boundary and control issues, unhealthy coping mechanisms, a less than helpful style of relating, how we eat, how we handle money — you get the idea.
Almost everything we do in life can become a way to try and re-find safety.
A trauma “symptom” is any once useful response to a past threat, which shows up in the present where there is no threat so that it will be no longer helpful.
The beauty of trauma symptoms is often their caution. They can OVER-protect us from what happened in the past happening again.
Their horror is that these over-reactions to inappropriate stimuli (only vaguely related to what hurt us) can ruin our present and future.
Even with this, however, we must be grateful for our systems’ attempt to care for us. This is paradoxically the start of any change effort.
“If hate worked, I would teach you that”
This very much applies to healing your trauma symptoms. Most people mistake their “low level” trauma for a part of their personality and are understandably attached to it. If you were in no way traumatized, you would respond all the time appropriately.
And you don’t, let’s be honest.
For example, I am an over-achiever to prove my value. My behavior stems from the prenatal experience of being given up for adoption. All of the behavior I exhibit today is to overcompensate for the loss of love experienced before birth! All of my BS is residual trauma.
Even when our “weirdness becomes wonderful” (post-traumatic growth), there’s still care to be taken in old patterns. I recognize that my trauma will be a work in progress for the rest of my life and may show up in unexpected ways if I am not consciously aware of what is happening within myself.
Remember, everyone on the planet has lived through traumatic experiences, and the pain you feel toward an event may be of a different intensity than another. Do you feel the time is right for you to assess the traumatic circumstances in your life? Does the thought of opening the door frighten or excite you? If you are at the start of your journey toward recovery, consider what it will be like to take the first step before leaping.