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Trauma is a massively overwhelming or life-threatening experience that utterly violates our sense of safety and basic trust. There is recent trauma and long-ago trauma that still lives on (the trauma experts Arnold & Fisch have said we should stop calling it post-traumatic stress disorder because there is nothing "post" about it: with PTSD, we are still in the trauma). There is natural-disaster trauma and man-made trauma (another trauma expert, Shay, explains that man-made trauma is usually much worse because of the betrayal involved). There is trauma that comes from within (such as a life-threatening illness) and trauma that comes from outside (such as a completely overwhelming medical treatment). One of the universal experiences of trauma is the utter aloneness we feel as if everyone thinks they know you but not even you know how to relate to yourself or other people (in the case of childhood trauma, this is often a chronically awful reality rather than a terrifying shock). I have a list of films that depict trauma posted on my books & films page and I caution any traumatized person about watching these because of the potential triggering effect. There can sometimes be a felt "pull" toward experiences that retrigger a traumatic response as if trying to scratch an itch. One of the hallmarks of therapy for trauma is the importance of a slow, safe pace to re-establish a sense of control and the capacity to regulate our arousal. Trauma is one of those things that doesn't just get better with time, and doesn't get better by analyzing it or "toughing it out." It gets better by careful, sensitive work to regain mastery over your own body and your felt experience.

If you've experienced trauma, you know how much damage it can do. A traumatic event can turn your world upside down, have you feeling afraid, numb, and like you cannot function. You may feel like no one understands what you are going through or like you cannot smile or feel good again. Trauma can come in all forms. It can be one event or it can be multiple events over a long period of time. Examples of traumatic events include a major accident, assault, rape, witnessing a murder, combat in war, a natural catastrophe, and chronic abuse. Generally an experience can be traumatic if you are severely injured, your life is in danger, or if you think you might be severely injured or could die. If you see someone else being severely injured or killed, you might also experience the effects of trauma. It is normal to respond to a traumatic event with shock and terror, but when the effects continue and do not seem to diminish, you might develop post-traumatic stress disorder. If you feel like you can't stop thinking about what happened, that it's affecting you physically and emotionally, or like you can't work or go to school, then it's time to ask for help. There is nothing to be ashamed of in asking for help. Asking for help is a courageous and smart thing to do when you are not able to cope with something on your own.

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Jason Seidel, Psy.D.

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Irina Banfi-Mare, Psy.D.
The Colorado Center
for Clinical Excellence