Trauma and Mindfulness
If you are looking for help with your emotions or behavior (and you’re searching the internet for insight) you’re probably seeing those words everywhere. They are among the most common and popular words in the self-help and therapy worlds right now. So, what do they mean? And why would you even want to read about trauma if nothing really terrible ever happened to you?
The Different Types of Trauma
Well, first off, there are different types of trauma. One of them is really obvious and is the kind of thing you automatically think of when you hear the word trauma…Car crash, bombing, war, combat, molestation, rape, mugging. That sort of stuff.
There are also a bunch of other experiences that get called “trauma” today too. And that’s where things get complicated.
Being repeatedly overwhelmed, helpless and/or afraid and having no one to help you feel better or safer can lead to what’s called “complex trauma.” It’s not one big thing that happened, but lots of “little” things. Only they’re not “little” when you’re little—and you’re overwhelmed, helpless and/or afraid with no one there to help you feel better and safer again.
Bonus: When it’s your own parents who are overwhelming and scary and you feel helpless in that situation, your trauma is called “developmental trauma.” Not only were your parents unavailable to help you feel better due to distraction or ignorance, but they were also the source of your fear. As you can imagine, this last scenario is the worst. It will leave you with something called disorganized attachment, and your interpersonal relationships are going to be dramatic, to say the least.
So, if you’ve ever been overwhelmed, helpless and/or afraid and no one was there to help you feel better and safer, you’ve experienced some trauma. And that’s why it’s such a big word these days.
Being overwhelmed, helpless and/or afraid and having no one there to help you feel better and safer is a very common experience for children. It’s why hordes of people go around with depression, anxiety, edginess, irritability, mood swings, difficulty focusing, and difficulty sleeping. Trauma overstimulates the nervous system and these symptoms are the outcome of an overstimulated nervous system that’s stuck in “fight or flight” function all the time.
That’s where mindfulness comes in. (It’s not going to get too “woo woo,” I promise.)
“Mindfulness is the practice of focusing intentionally on something that is happening right now.”
What this means is that you deliberately engage the part of your brain that can focus on whatever you choose and “exercise it” by noticing sensory information or physical movements that you make.
It’s pretty simple. But it dramatically decreases the symptoms mentioned above and improves a person’s ability to tolerate higher levels of any emotion that arises.
The simplest version of mindfulness is paying attention to your breath as it comes in and goes out of your body. When your attention shifts away, bring it back. No need to feel bad or think you’re doing it wrong. Do this while you’re standing in line at the grocery store, or waiting at the drive-through. You’ll be practicing mindfulness. And believe it or not, you will be improving your ability to deal with your emotions as they arise at a later time, no matter what they are.
For a more intense mindfulness practice, visit YouTube and listen to Dr. Dan Siegel’s “Wheel of Awareness” audio.
If you’re interested in learning about a more active mindfulness practice, download the introduction to my book Emotional Utopia from EmotionalSuccessTampa.com.
Call me now for your free 15-minute phone consultation.