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Trauma…it was so long ago…why am I still struggling? Author: Kristy Cobillas, LPC

When it comes to healing from trauma, the old adage that “time heals all wounds” simply does not apply. Years may pass and many of the memories will go underground. There may even be spanses of time in which life feels “pretty good,” and it seems as though the troubles of yesterday are left far behind. There is gratitude that one has survived and one’s circumstances in life have improved greatly. It is not unusual for someone to escape their traumatic childhood or abusive relationship...and to think...”thank God’s that’s over, I'll never have to suffer like that again.”

But seemingly out of nowhere, things change. One begins to feel unsettled, anxious, and distressed. Life begins to feel unstable, and it feels as though there's no real way to grasp security.

But wait--- I thought that once I got “out of there”, it would all be over and I would be fine! What is happening to me?!

Unfortunately, trauma leaves its mark in a multiplicity of ways. Trauma not only leaves behind the typical PTSD symptoms which may include: high startle response, nightmares, and anxiety, but trauma also greatly impacts one’s sense of value, meaning and purpose in life. Further, there are profound biological and neurobiological lessons instilled during the trauma. These lessons do not just “go away” and one does not just “get over it.”

So what exactly is happening? “Why am I anxious, unsettled and fearful if I am not in danger? I Should be over this by now!”

When one has been traumatized, the neurobiological impact is profound. First, trauma causes a breakdown in communication between the prefrontal cortex (the part of the brain having to do with executive function, logic, assessment and reasoning) and the limbic system (the part of the brain having to do with danger signals or the flight or fight response). So, despite the fact that someone is in a safe place, with good people and nothing “dangerous” is happening, they still feel anxious. This duality of mind results in the person cognitively KNOWING that they are safe, but yet not FEELING safe.

Second, oftentimes the trauma was so incredibly profound that the brain could not appropriately process it. A “traumatic neural net” is formed and the thoughts, feelings, sense of self and body sensations associated with the trauma stay active. One could say that neurobiologically, the person is “frozen in time.” The end result is that although one is not in danger, they still feel as though they are. Further, this neural net is not able to receive the information that “that was then and this is now”, so anything that looks like, sounds like, smells like, or reminds one of the trauma in any way, shape or form, touches on this unprocessed trauma and sends one emotionally, physically and neurologically back in time to when they were in danger. This is when the re-experiencing, flashbacks, and dissociation often take place. Trauma treatment is specialized, and requires skilled techniques to be able to confront and mitigate these issues. Finally, trauma impacts the way one views oneself, the world, their relationships and possibly even their spirituality. These views often go unchecked and greatly impact the way one cognitively processes their life experiences. Thorough exploration of these issues is also needed as a part of a comprehensive trauma treatment.

If you are struggling with the lingering impacts of trauma from your past, there is hope.

You don’t have to suffer needlessly. A multifactorial approach to address the biological and neural biological impact, cognitive interjects, emotional reactions, and social/relational/spiritual issues can greatly reduce the negative impacts from past trauma so that you can have a peaceful and fulfilling existence.

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