Trauma often comes up in my work, but it’s not necessarily the reason why the person decides to come to therapy. Maybe there was something else going on that seemed unrelated. A relationship or sexual issue. A job challenge. A religious or spiritual crisis. Body image struggles. A loss. Confusion about life.
But I’ve come to see more and more how much our different experiences don’t stay isolated in their little corners of who we are. They overlap. They integrate. And sometimes, they hold us back from feeling whole and able to show up for lives in the way we would like.
Now, just because we’ve been through trauma doesn’t mean we are traumatized. Thousands of people witnessed 9/11 but not all became traumatized. The best definition I’ve heard about trauma is that it’s not about what happens to you, it’s about the response inside of you as a result. I like that definition because it takes the focus off of judging an event as “worthy” of being labeled a trauma; in other words, it recognizes that we are all different and something that was really traumatic for one person could have little effect on their neighbor who experienced the same thing.
But it was in the past. It doesn’t matter anymore, right? Time heals all wounds, right?
Well…kind of….but not really. Other mechanisms jump into place that enable us to move forward even though there may be unresolved trauma continuing to lurk. I find that unresolved trauma always seems to have a way of affecting the present, even if it’s very subtle.
I compare unresolved trauma to trying to drive with the parking brake on. Sure, you can drive. You can even get places. But the car is held back from going at its potential speed, and driving with the parking brake on wears down the car. If that’s how it’s always sounded when you got in the car, you wouldn’t even know it didn’t have to be that way.
Therapy is a process that addresses what’s holding you back. When you turn off that parking brake, you can start driving without feeling held back. As a result, life– and its meaning– feels so much more accessible.