You Are Not Your Trauma: Trauma Wellness

Feb 18, 2021 at 08:00 am by aGentleDrLaura

"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance."

--Alan Watts

Trauma Wellness is a coaching approach to having experienced disturbing life events. I used to believe that these events were extraordinary. Out of the norm. But as I researched traumatic events and worked with people who had experienced a wide range of traumas, I learned how common they truly are.

I've made lists. Lists of traumatic events. And yes, some events seem worse than others. Even horrific. But I'm convinced that the common theme among all trauma is emotional injury. Pain. And emotional pain is a normal part of life. It's a part of how we grow and change over our lifetimes.

And so, Trauma Wellness is a philosophy, a way of looking at life. This philosophy states that you are whole and healthy. Your reactions to whatever you've experienced are natural and normal. You simply have a new path to walk in your life.

You are not your trauma. In other words: You are not what happened to you.

I've wondered how we came to believe that trauma causes anyone and everyone to develop a mental disorder. Because I disagree with that way of thinking, I've spent considerable time pondering how our society developed that belief system.

To view traumas from this point of view, we need to distinguish the trauma itself from you. 

Traumas are often horrendous, vile, awful, and devastating. They include such experiences as rape, crime, witnessing a traumatic event, earthquake, fire, political torture, child abuse, accidents, explosions, a care-taking role in a trauma, airplane crash, natural disaster, and war.

You, however, are normal. Normal, normal, normal. Your feelings are normal, your responses to your trauma are normal, and the difficulties you might have after your trauma are also normal.

Let me explain.

Over the years, when I was still working in my psychotherapy practice, I met people who did not have a diagnosable mental disorder after experiencing severe and violent trauma. Things that made me shudder when I imagined them. These people did not have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. They were not depressed. They didn't fit the official profile of someone with anxiety. None of these clients could be given a diagnosis from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Friends, family, physicians, and employers sent them for psychotherapy. The people who cared about them believed in the shared wisdom of two very different ideas.

One, they believed that traumas were unbelievably awful. And they are.

It's just their second assumption that was flawed. Referring sources assumed that if you experienced such a horrific event, you'd be incapacitated by it. Damaged somehow. Tainted by the awfulness.

That's the error. Because these clients were not, they only came to see me for one session. In just a few minutes, it became clear they needed no extra assistance.

I began to wonder. What was it about these individuals that allowed them to heal from a severe trauma without counseling assistance? How is it that they walked through that awfulness without developing a mental disorder?

And here is what I found.

They each had grown up in loving homes with excellent support systems. Each person had strong feelings of positive self-esteem. Thus, they could master their trauma experience and have a healthy experience, a wellness experience. They handled the emotions and difficulties following their trauma. They followed their natural and normal process.

At first, I was stunned. This situation was very different from what I knew and read in journals and textbooks. I pondered and thought about this for a long time.

This dilemma is where a coaching approach comes in. Some people would insist on pushing these clients, looking for pathology and insisting it was there. Still, others would label each normal but painful feeling as pathology. Anxiety instead of fear. Depression instead of sadness. 

A coaching approach assumes that people are the authority on their experiences. And that they are right to be where they are in their lives right now. This minute. So I did. I assumed that they knew something that helped them walk through their traumatic life event. I assumed they were “whole, healthy, and had all their own answers within them.”

I examined each of those factors that allowed them to master the trauma experience. I looked at what they did that supported them in swiftly returning to full and effective functioning in their lives. I made lists of ideas, skills, and activities that helped people walk through awfulness and come out whole.

Eventually, I developed classes in my office to provide people with the foundations needed to have their own healthy experiences with the trauma process. The courses offered ideas, skills, tools, and techniques to help people build their own foundation. I gave those classes for years to people who desired them.

And so, Trauma Wellness is about skills, living skills.

My thinking has evolved some more. Trauma Wellness is also about your personal power. What I offered before was education. Education is not coaching. Education's power differential assumes you need an expert to teach you. While periodically in a coaching session, I might briefly offer some new ideas or skills, the coaching session puts you in the driver's seat. You are in charge. You know what you need. You simply need to listen to and trust yourself.

Trauma Wellness assumes you have all the wisdom inside you that you need to cope with your life. Sometimes you just need to be heard by a person who values what you have to say. Who listens carefully and lets you know what they hear. Who believes in your personal power to achieve your goals. And after a traumatic life experience, the most pressing goal is usually to reclaim your life.

I believe in that. I believe in you.



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