Most people understand that child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and serving in combat can lead to trauma. Unfortunately, many other things cause trauma that are overlooked. Because they aren’t generally associated with trauma, people can try to live with them. Without treatment, they can cause unnecessary pain for a long time. Let’s take a look at what they are.
We think of doctor’s offices, dentist visits, and hospitals as places we go to for help. However, a common element with traumatic incidents is feeling a loss of control. When health care workers treat us like bodies, aren’t compassionate, don’t tell us what’s going on, take on the expert role, and we can’t do anything about it, this can result in trauma. Fear + the unknown + a lack of control can equal trauma. Undergoing medical procedures or even just one bad medical visit can leave deep scars.
Living With an Alcoholic
Let’s look at that “fear + the unknown + a lack of control” equation again. Living in an alcoholic household can create all of those things! When someone is drunk, you don’t know what they might do. You certainly have no control over other people. If it’s violent, embarrassing, or can result in humiliation, fights, or homelessness, that’s scary. It’s not “normal” or healthy to be drunk. Even if this happened long ago, you could still be carrying the scars of it in your body.
Emotional incest is often hard to detect as traumatizing or abusive because it can feel as if you had/have a really close bond with your parent. It happens when your parent gives you the role of a friend or confidante. Perhaps he or she talked about how mature you always were. You share everything- even things talk about finances and relationships. Consequently, you don’t get to have a childhood. You don’t get to feel taken care of. This is not the natural order of things, and it’s very damaging to kids.
I’ve had many clients who have gotten into car accidents who don’t realize that it can be traumatizing. When your car goes out of control, it’s scary! You might have nightmares. Maybe you’re really hurt. If you are replaying it in your mind, smelling the smells, hearing the sounds of the crash, and are scared to get back behind the wheel, you’re not shaking it off. It’s still in your body and you might need some help releasing that. It’s not “nothing.” It’s your body trying to cope with an overwhelming situation.
Death is normal and natural, yet it can still be traumatizing. Especially if it was sudden, you were left out of the dying or funeral process, or no one supported you. There is a whole death and grieving process. If it’s not observed in a healthy way, we can experience trauma. We don’t do death well in the west anyway. It’s not “normal” to have three days to process something that life-changing and then be expected to go back to normal, yet that’s what we do. It’s not always easy to just bounce back.
Helicopter parents can give the impression of being perfect parents because they are very present and involved in their kids’ lives. However, this is stifling. Kids need space to grow. They need to make their own decisions and have their own experiences. When parents do it all for them, remove all obstacles, and give them everything, kids don’t get to experience a holistic life. Life can not only feel very unsatisfying, but it can also make the kids feel as if they are incapable. They have no control. It’s scary to feel like you are incapable and no one believes in you. Helicopter parenting sends the message “The world is very dangerous. You can’t manage this, so I will do it for you.” What is a person supposed to do when the parents aren’t there?
Overly Controlling Parenting
Whereas helicopter parents are often motivated by love and caring, the overly controlling parent can be motivated by perfectionism and anxiety. This is also stifling. The kids feel straight-jacketed. They also don’t get to experience life. This can result in children who fear making mistakes. Learning comes from mistakes! We don’t grow without mistakes. So this person can develop a fixed mindset, low self-esteem, perfectionism, and anxiety. When there are lots of rules and restrictions, this is obvious, but overly controlling parenting can be disguised by withholding approval or using guilt to control.
Strict Religious Upbringing
This is another area that seems like it’s healthy. Having a spiritual life is holistic. However, when we are controlled by obligations, a strict moral code, and are threatened with ostracism or Hell, it can create trauma. Again, there is a fear of making a mistake, not being good enough in the eyes of those you love, and losing the thing that gives you a sense of belonging. If you feel like the values of the church are in conflict with your own (for example racism, homophobia, dietary rules, etc), this can feel like you are having to hide your true self. Going against your values and hiding is incredibly invalidating.
When you go to court, you put your fate into the hands of a stranger. You have no control. If the judge’s decision impacts your freedom, finances, reputation, or relationships, this is a high stakes game. Nobody wants to give anyone else that much control over their lives. While we can all agree that court is stressful, it can also be traumatizing if the person is not particularly resilient, he doesn’t have a lot of support, the case is prolonged, and/or he feels invalidated.
Growing Up with a Sick Parent
When your parent is either mentally or physically ill, this can create terror in a child. He might have thoughts about his own health or death. He may fear what will happen to him if something happens to his parent. We can overlook a child who appears competent and calm, but every child needs love and attention. When the parent is too busy tending to his own problems, the child can feel abandoned. Uncertainty is a huge component of crisis. Living in crisis creates trauma.
These might sound like life issues, not causes of trauma. Trauma is something that happens to your nervous system. It’s a way of coping with stress. When your body is overwhelmed and can’t cope, it creates changes in the stomach and nervous system that increases emotional symptoms, relationship problems, and can create dis-ease. It’s not “nothing.” If you are having problems and don’t really know why one of these things could be the reason why.
I am sure there are many other things that could make this list. If you experienced something that was invalidating, scary, you couldn’t control it, and you didn’t know what to do, your body could be carrying trauma. Check it out to know for sure. This is treatable. The rest of your life doesn’t have to be limited by something in your past.