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Trauma and Mindfulness

“Trauma is not what happens to you but what happens inside of you”

-Gabor Mate

What is trauma?

Gabor Mate defines trauma as an “inner injury, a lasting rupture or split within the self due to difficult or hurtful events.” It is something that happens inside of you, as a result of something that happened to you. When the trauma is not processed or healed, it can either leave an open wound that is available to be hurt over and over again by slightest reminders. It can also lead to your body creating a thick layer of protection as a bandaid to protect the wound from any harm. Although the second response is of protection, it can have drawbacks: it can lead the protection to be inflexible, keep you from growing, and leave you susceptible to numbing.

There are two types of trauma.

The first type is called capital T trauma– it involves automatic responses to a specific, identifiable hurtful and overwhelming event. This type of trauma occurs when things happen to vulnerable people that should not have happened. This includes child abuse, loss of a parent, racism, car accidents, natural disasters, etc.

The second type of trauma is small t-trauma. These are less memorable but hurtful and far more prevalent in childhood. These include bullying, casual or repeated harsh comments, or lack of emotional connections. Good things not happening, such as emotional needs for attunement to feel seen and accepted, is trauma. Mark Epstein states that “traumas of everyday life can easily make us feel like a motherless child.”

In both traumas, there is a loss of self and sense of safety in relationship with the world. Peter Levine states that “trauma is about a loss of connection to ourselves, our families, and the world around us.”

How can trauma affect you and your relationship?

Couples and families often come into therapy experiencing a primary complaint of ineffective communication. As we get to know the issue, it often becomes clear that couples are triggering each other's trauma wounds that have not been healed from the past. The attachment wounds of loneliness and the threat of feeling unlovable and worthless. Trauma responses, such as numbness and disconnection can rob you from being able to fully connect with vulnerability and authenticity with others. Hypervigilance can keep you from feeling fully safe and trusting of others. Negative beliefs of “I’m not good enough” or “I’m unlovable” can lead you into a spiral whenever you feel a slight disconnect or rejection by your partner.

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is an act of having an awareness of what is happening in the present moment. This includes any body sensations, qualities of thoughts and feelings. Allowing yourself to tune into all the senses of taste, smell, touch, visual and auditory sensations.

How can mindfulness help with trauma?

A psychologist, Rollo May, states, “Human freedom involves our capacity to pause between stimulus and response and, in that pause, to choose the one response toward which we wish to throw that weight.” Trauma can rob us of that freedom. Mindfulness can help slow things down for you to respond to a situation, rather than react.

Through staying curious and open to our quick, reactive behaviors, mindfulness can slow the process down and identify the root causes of our behaviors. Through mindfulness, we can deepen our understanding of ourselves and why we do what we do. When we understand ourselves and the reasons for behaviors, we are better able to recognize our immediate reaction, take a pause, and choose to respond in a way that best suits the present situation.


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