Emotional & Psychological Trauma
The topic we’re going to review today is trauma. The reason why I wanted to bring this one out, and we’ll do more videos on this later, is because it’s a topic that a lot of people want to avoid. That’s because it’s so distressing and it brings up topics that we’re pretty much socialized to really not want to talk about.
Think about medical doctors that work in an emergency room; every day they see life threatening injuries, serious illnesses, blood; it’s just part of their work. So at Nsight, we provide mental health treatment, emotional health and help people overcome difficulties. When you look at trauma, we have a lot of people that struggle with depression and anxiety. When you look at some of the causes of that, its trauma.
A lot of stuff happens in childhood. We get a lot of individuals with childhood sexual abuse, physical abuse, neglect, there’s also domestic violence, and adults experience rape and other physical violence and so forth. So this is an important topic. The reason why I’m making this video is a lot of people avoid going to treatment. It’s unfortunate. It doesn’t happen with everybody, but there’s a lot of individuals that are re-traumatized later in life, so they may experience trauma as a kid or as a young adult and we’ll see patterns where it happens maybe multiple times throughout their life.
Not saying that therapy would prevent that from happening. The treatment of trauma can seem like it’s very complicated. People don’t want to talk about it. There’s a lot of fear of judgment. There’s a lot of self-blame and guilt. A lot of times that sounds really complex when there’s big terms used like disassociation and emotional numbing and so forth, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
So trauma and working through it may be complex, but it doesn’t have to take a long time. A lot of times people are told, you experienced that trauma, you’ll be in therapy for years; doesn’t necessarily have to be that way and it is something that people can work through and recover from. So just think about it like a physical illness. Someone can get very ill or experience an injury like a broken bone and so forth, but they do have an opportunity to heal. They can get better and go back to perform the same way they were before the physical injury or illness.
So first of all, for those of you who don’t know me, I’m Dr. Jerry Grosso. I’m the Clinical Director at Nsight Psychology & Addiction in Newport Beach, California. The purpose for this video is to provide some information about trauma, but this is not a substitute for trauma treatment. I’m going to hit a couple of points. I will do another video on more of this later and in more detail but I just wanted to make sure that you guys are aware that this is not like “I watched this video and I’m going to resolve my trauma.” I’m just going to bring up a couple of points that would be good that you’re aware of. If you have experienced trauma or if you’re trying to help a loved one, family member, or friend work through difficulties they’ve had with a specific trauma, and maybe be more understanding of them with depression, anxiety, and so forth.
We’re going to identify trauma as experiencing, like the direct experience, of a traumatic event or witnessing of a traumatic event. So if I was sexually abused or physically abused. If I was raped or if I witnessed something that was very traumatic to somebody else. For example, I could be involved in a very traumatic car accident or I could have witnessed it, it could have happened right in front of me, that could be very traumatic.
The other thing would be repeated exposure to traumatic events. So, think about, people will say, “Jerry, what do you mean continued or repeated exposure?” Think about first responders; police, fire, doctors and nurses, where they may be the first on the scene of a car accident or a terrible accident or tragedy. It could be a plane crash or something like that. It could be walking in on a completed suicide or a murder. It’s part of their job. But the constant re-exposure to that could be very traumatic over time.
There’s one part where you get desensitized to it. There’s another part, where we’re all human. It does impact us. The military vets; veterans that have been part of combat in the military and what they’ve witnessed and experienced.
That kind of gives you the two different things. So it would be your direct or witnessing a traumatic event or continual re-exposure.
Symptoms that are very common for individuals. One would be distressing memories and think about when memories, you could just recall a memory one day. It could be good or it could be bad; things in our life we recall. So people that have been exposed to trauma have distressing memories. These memories you don’t really control when they come in. They come in and so that can be very difficult for people. They have nightmares and they report the frequency of those nightmares can have a big impact on how they’re managing emotionally. Then they may report feeling emotionally numb or disconnected, which would be an expected response.
You might hear people that have been exposed to some type of traumatic event say something like I just don’t really feel anymore. I just feel numb all the time or I just check out; emotionally I’m not there. These are common symptoms of people that have experienced trauma.
Two things. So when you see people that say I’m struggling with depression, I’m struggling with anxiety. It’s just not simple, get over it, and learn how to manage your anxiety or depression, develop coping skills. You may want to look at what’s causing the depression? What’s causing the anxiety? Oh well, you know I have been exposed to trauma or I’ve experienced trauma and then you look a little bit further; well, what kind of things do you feel? Well, on a regular basis, I have these distressing memories or I have nightmares. I just feel emotionally numb.
When it comes to treatment, things that when you’re trying to overcome the difficulties with trauma, and I do want to say, the same thing when you’re trying to overcome difficulties like with a physical injury, break a bone, I’m in a wheelchair. I get on crutches. I learn to walk. It’s painful but then I get back to where I can walk like I did before. Run, jump, and so forth. So it’s the same thing with trauma. So let’s look at three things that are important for people to recognize when they’re working through trauma.
One, you want to develop the ability to be able to discuss what took place without significant emotional distress. I will tell you, that’s one of the reasons people avoid coming in to treatment. Just the thought about talking about what happened to them or what they experienced, is so distressing they’re afraid to even have the conversation. One thing I’ll share, on the most part, when people start to talk about the trauma that they’ve experienced they typically report, even though they’re fearful of it, it’s never as painful as it was when they actually experienced it. So it’s kind of like, when I’m coming out of the dark, like a totally dark room and I’m moving into light, it’s not getting darker. So when you come out of dark, you don’t see more darkness. It starts to get lighter.
If I break a leg, I’m in a wheelchair. I start to learn how to walk on crutches and I can walk again. It’s painful but I get to a point where I can walk again. When people can start talking about, and it’s not like a conversation they’re going to share all the time, but they will be able to talk about; this is what I experienced and this is how it impacted me, but it won’t have the same level of emotional distress as it had when it happened or when they first started talking about it.
Another big point is people need to understand and work through that there’s multiple factors that lead to a trauma. So it’s not, and a lot of times people have a tendency to want to personalize it. I was there, so I was the cause of it or I could have done something different. When you look at it, there’s multiple factors. If it’s like a car accident, there’s another car involved, there could be other factors as far as roads. There could be other people in my car; distractions. I could be thinking about other things that happened to me previously when it comes to abuse, domestic violence, there’s a lot of people involved in it. It could be one the victim but I could be also the abuser. Where are the other family members? Where are let’s say neighbors? What happened in these peoples’ lives, meaning the perpetrator or the victim, that they didn’t manage certain things like emotions, and they came out in a physical way or someone didn’t lack the awareness of the danger of the situation and so forth.
Now, I’m going to qualify this. I’m not saying this in every situation, but in most traumatic events, there are multiple factors involved and typically multiple people, even though it could be narrowed down and seem like it was just me and this individual. I’m walking to my car and I get robbed. Yeah, but there are other factors. Why am I walking to my car at a specific time? What is my surrounding area look like? Was I distracted by something else? Could have been other people I could have asked to walk me to my car.
So again, in this video, I’m not getting into all the details as it’s not the space to describe every single thing and every factor that could have played a role, but I’m just trying to bring it to light that typically when people are working through this stuff in therapy, they start to identify; well wait a second, there were a lot of factors involved. I wasn’t the only one.
Then, and this is another big one, is understanding trauma is not me. So a lot of times people will identify with the trauma and they will comment and they will talk about guilt. They’ll talk about shame. They’ll call themselves dirty, or say I disgust myself. There’s a lot of self-hatred, like I should have known better and so forth. But what they’re doing is they’re personalizing what happened. Like this has become me as opposed to something I experienced.
So yes I may have been victimized, but that trauma is not me. This is something that I experienced, it’s not me. It’s important that people start to see this shift and they start to grow and get beyond like do I start to see the world different? A lot of people will say, I do see the world different. I don’t see the world as safe. I’m not safe. People are not safe. Well if you go back to the specific trauma, maybe the individual that victimized me, that person’s not safe, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not safe. I might have this tendency to generalize the world is not safe, when in fact, certain individuals may not be safe but depending on how I protect my environment, I could be fine.
The other thing is, especially when there’s a lot of self-blame, like I could have done things differently or I’m mad at myself or think I’m naïve, and I’m going to say naïve in a good way. So nobody should ever be exposed to childhood abuse. No one should ever be raped. No one ever should ever be exposed to anything traumatic. So there’s this good part of naive. I guess we could use the statement, ignorance is bliss. There are certain things in life that I should never be exposed to.
So I have to look at I’m not the problem. I didn’t do this. I’ve just now been exposed to a part of life that I should have never seen. And so, the way someone works through this in therapy is the ability to start to discuss what it is they experienced, how that made them see the world and themselves a little bit different, and then starting to get that straightened back out again because we can be pushed just a little bit in a certain direction where I used to feel safe. Now I don’t feel safe. I used to like myself. I don’t like myself. When it might be that the situation I was in, there were a lot of factors that were involved, not just one, and it did shift the way I saw that person or that experience and maybe the way I started to view myself, but I’ve got to go back. I didn’t necessarily change per se. Who was I before this traumatic event took place? I’m still that person. This is just something I experienced.
If you guys have questions for me about this, please send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d be happy to answer them.
Again, I’m trying to simplify a topic that people find very difficult to talk about. In my effort to simply it, I’m not trying to say this is easy to get over. What I am saying, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. It can be complex, but there are ways to work through it. There are certain things that you really want to be able to do. One is, be able to talk about this, which gets easier over time, if you work through it, that it’s not as emotionally distressing. I can tell you what happened to me, but it doesn’t overwhelm me like it used to. I understand that it’s something that I experienced and this is not me, per se, and that there’s multiple factors involved in this and I go from naïve, a good naïve, to where I now see stuff that I didn’t see before, but my ability to see this stuff now, could actually protect me in the future; that I now have a heightened sense of awareness and so forth that can help me move forward to make sure this stuff doesn’t happen again.
Again, trauma is very difficult. Please be sensitive to those out there that have experienced it. If they’re depressed or anxious as a result and are struggling emotionally, telling them to get over it doesn’t serve any purpose. It just makes it worse for that individual and I understand it can be frustrating for people as well, but it is something that you can work through no different than something that’s physical.
So, again I hope I conveyed this to you in a way that can be better understood and if not, I’m going to try it again in other videos. I really want to take down the stigma of mental illness and really create emotional health. Get people to understand that you can have struggles and so forth, but you can work past them.
Again, if you like this video, please share with people. Give us a like. If you don’t like it, please let us know. Questions; I’m always happy to answer them.
Again, I’m Dr. Jerry Grosso from Nsight Psychology and Addiction in Newport Beach, California, and until I talk to you guys next time, have a terrific day and thanks for watching
Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Grosso is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with over 20 years of experience assisting individuals and families struggling with addiction, depression and trauma. He obtained his Bachelors of Arts degree in Psychology from San Diego State University before enrolling in Chapman University where he acquired a Master of Arts degree in Psychology. Dr. Grosso continued his education and received a Doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology with a Specialty in treating Chemical Dependency. He holds a professional membership with the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT).