Sometimes trauma work is not just about resolving major traumatic events in one’s life. Life is full of small traumas that most of us do not perceive as extremely distressing. When someone comes to therapy for posttraumatic stress, it is fair to assume that he or she likely experienced a very traumatic event (or events), but that’s not always the case. As I don’t exclusively treat PTSD, I also see people who come in to address depression, anxiety, and difficulty adjusting to changing stressors in their lives.
As we get into the therapy work, more often than not I find that these people are experiencing symptoms that resulted from a less obvious traumatic experience that has brought on negative thoughts or beliefs about the world, other people, or themselves. We end up doing trauma work to resolve those beliefs, which contribute to their anxiety and depression. Generally, clients are surprised to make this discovery.
What qualifies as a less traumatic event that might result in experiencing symptoms such as depression or anxiety? Here is an example that is not uncommon:
inadequate as well as a lack of confidence.
A child grows up in a loving family. She has one older sibling and one younger. There is no significant trauma in her life, and her parents are responsible and caring. The oldest sibling is very smart and excels in school. He often receives praise from his parents about his accomplishments. He also demands his parents’ attention, as he is assertive and outgoing. The youngest sibling tends to be emotionally needy, so she gets a lot of attention. The middle child is an average student, but is highly intelligent and has a laid-back, easygoing personality. Her parents appreciate this about her as they don’t have to worry after her and can focus more in other areas. However, as this child grows up, she begins to develop the belief that her parents prefer her siblings. She also develops the belief that she is not as smart as her oldest sibling because she does not excel in school.
From a trauma therapy perspective, the small traumas and resulting negative beliefs would be a good place to start addressing her current symptoms, as that is likely the root of her issues—particularly the lack of confidence.
It is fair to say all of us have experienced a small trauma that led to some sort of negative belief that, in turn, affected how we see, interact with, or feel about the world or ourselves. These small traumas don’t have to be devastating, and most of us continue functioning well. If you do begin to experience symptoms that are bothersome, such as a lack of confidence, mild depression or anxiety, getting into therapy can help you discover if any of these small traumas are the culprit. These small traumas and resulting beliefs are very treatable through several modalities of therapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), among others.
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