You may have read in some of my other blog posts that trauma is anything that overwhelms a person at the time it is ocurring. Sometimes that happens in a moment; a car accident, an assault, or in the death of a loved one. Sometimes overwhelm occurs over time; that is, the repetitive dynamic of something slowly overwhelms your ability to cope. Neglect (physical or emotional), mental and psychological abuse, poverty, and brainwashing are some examples of this. It is important to keep in mind that trauma, adversity, and overwhelm can all have a similar effect on the individual. It’s anything that you’re not able to cope with and overwhelms you, leaving things unfinished mentally, emotionally, and physically. It comes back to bite you in nightmares, physical pain, flashbacks, panic, anxiety and other mental health symptoms.
What is overwhelming to one individual may not be overwhleming to another. This is the same for positive things. Positive things can overwhelm an individual in a different way. Take for example winning the lottery or learning you are “gifted.” While these experiences may not bring on horrific memories and pervasive symptoms of PTSD, they may overwhelm the self-system with the associated changes they bring.
One of my clients discovered they were very intelligent at a young age. While this would seem to be a fun and exciting thing to learn, for her it was just another reason they would be seen as “different”. She was taken from the classroom to be placed in an advanced classes, and was made to stand out. It is easy to say, “well, come on that isn’t so bad.” For young children these big changes can be difficult manage and navigate it not properly framed.
So what’s the answer? The answer certainly isn’t to go on a digging expedition for traumatic memories. What is helpful, though, is identifying what you’re having trouble with today and then see if it is connected to something unresolved in the past. It may not be a full-blown clinical trauma, but something that was simply overwhelming for you at the time, that you never had the time or insight to resolve.