Mental Health Focus: Trauma and Women

by Amanda Klosinski, LCSW

Owner and Therapist at Brave Enough Therapy

Trauma is one of the biggest health-related crises of our time, and many of us are walking around with emotional and physical symptoms with no idea that trauma is connected to it.

I spoke with Amanda Klosinski, LCSW, Owner and Therapist at Brave Enough Therapy in West Dundee, about the reality that many women today are discounting the effects of trauma in their lives because what they’ve experienced is not “big enough” because, in the past, these events have been defined as the “natural” stressors of life.

“Women are doing self-care, reading self-help books, and going to therapy, and yet they are still struggling to love themselves,” explained Amanda. “They’re seeing general practitioners, specialists, trying acupuncture, yet still dealing with chronic pain that nobody can seem to figure out.”

As I sat nodding my own head to Amanda's assessment that mirrored my own internal struggle of why I was flailing despite doing all the things to make myself the very best version of me, she immediately said:

“I want to start by affirming that you are not alone.

So many of us are feeling frustrated and confused in our day to day lives as we navigate the desire for love, connection and joy alongside the fear, shame and pain we have endured trying to receive it. Sometimes the things keeping us from what we want have roots in unresolved trauma. Let’s take a look at the basics to see if this might be a missing piece in your healing journey.

Simply put, trauma is anything that overwhelms our capacity to cope. This goes beyond our psychology and into our physiology. Trauma can disrupt and overwhelm our autonomic nervous system, creating a long list of challenges in our minds and bodies. These symptoms can affect our everyday lives in pretty significant ways if left untreated. Many of us will associate the word trauma with what we define in our field as shock trauma or “big T” trauma.

A shock trauma is often, a clearly defined, one-time event such as a car accident, assault or situation wherein our life was threatened or was perceived to be threatened.

Although this accounts for a percentage of traumas, there are far greater numbers of people struggling with the effects of developmental/attachment trauma, or “little t” traumas. Developmental trauma derives from abuse, neglect, and misattunement from our caregivers throughout the lifespan. These may be less clearly defined and chronic. By definition, these repeated traumas occur in developmentally sensitive times when our minds and bodies are still growing and forming. These traumas still alter our nervous system and other body systems like shock traumas do, but they may also alter or disrupt our sense of self and our ability to relate to ourselves, others, and the world in healthy ways.

Many trauma survivors have experienced both kinds of traumatic experiences in their lifetime. Developmental trauma or the combination of these traumas can result in what’s called C-PTSD, or complex- post-traumatic stress disorder. This is a relatively new diagnosis emerging from research that has helped us better understand how trauma affects us psycho-biologically. We may be more familiar with a diagnosis of PTSD, which tends to reflect the symptoms resulting from shock- based traumas.

Why is this important?

Trauma and its effects are a lot more common and widespread than we may currently understand as a society. At the same time, there is a lack of training about how these symptoms really affect both mental and physical health, as well as how to treat it. Because of this they tend to be missed or dismissed by health care professionals and even by some therapists. Cognitive, or “talk therapy” alone is not sufficient to heal trauma, yet it widely being used to treat it.

On top of that, most models of therapy designed for trauma treatment best treat shock-related trauma. While this can be helpful with some symptoms it misses addressing the complexity of our identity and sense of connection to the self that is brought into the picture with developmental trauma. For true healing, it is important to be able to address trauma holistically.

Let’s talk about how trauma may be showing up in our minds and bodies:

- anxiety, panic or activation in the body (increased heart rate, shortness of breath, muscle tension)

- anger, rage or underlying irritation

- an overwhelming sense of shame or self-hatred

- physiological conditions such as chronic pain, headaches, digestive issues, trouble - sleeping/ staying asleep/ feeling rested

- feeling on edge, or startled easily

- feeling shut down, numb, with little energy or life force

- not feeling “in” our bodies, or disconnected from ourselves

- uncomfortable somatic sensations in the body: a pit in our stomach, a restriction in our chests or throats, a sense of heaviness or blocked energy

- sadness and depression

- intense fears around specific things/experiences, or a constant underlying sense of fear

- emotional or physical difficulties that arise in relationship with others