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What is the definition of Trauma, and am I a survivor of it?

One of the biggest problems with being a Trauma therapist is that so many people have it but don't know it. All they know is that they're hurting, they have behavior patterns and ways of thinking that neither they nor those close to them understand, and try as they might, they just can't "get over it." But when they hear the word "trauma," pictures of Rambo or Sybil come to mind. They think "well, my childhood was bad, but it wasn't 'traumatic.'" Understand this:

One of the symptoms of being a trauma survivor is "minimization." That means that it's natural that everybody else's experience seems worse to you than your own.

Each experience is unique, and each experience is personal. Don't compare. If there are things in your past that you can't talk about without feeling pain, if there are huge sections of your childhood you can't remember, or if situations cause emotional or physical reactions in you that you don't understand, and especially if your life suffers from pain and dysfunction, then you could be dealing with a history of trauma.

Just because you don't qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD doesn't mean you don't have trauma in your past.

Do I believe everyone is a survivor of trauma? Absolutely not.

Do I believe a lot more people are survivors than know it? Yes, I do.

If you're on this page, I suspect that you may also suspect that's true. Read the lists below and see if you think you fit into any of these categories. If you think it's a fit, then please seek help from a qualified trauma therapist for an evaluation. Your life could improve dramatically as a result.

I. Definition of Trauma*
A traumatic event, either witnessed or experienced, representing a fundamental threat to one's physical integrity or survival
Responses involve intense fear, helplessness or horror
The meaning of the event may be as important as the actual physical act/experience
Disempowerment / helplessness
Anger / fear / anxiety / horror
"Fight or flight" response
Freeze: de-realization / de-personalization / dissociation
Shame / guilt / "badness" / embarrassment
Grief / bereavement symptoms without obvious death or loss
II. Effects of Trauma
IIi. Types of Trauma
Sudden onset of illness / disease
Physical injuries
Medical procedures
Car accident
Physical, sexual, emotional, verbal abuse
Neglect, abandonment
Victim of crime
Witnessing violence
Victim of natural disaster
Victim of terrorism
Abrupt change in financial status
Profound change in familial dynamics
If you connect with these symptoms or experiences and you know something is wrong in your life, then call me. Call someone. Get help.
*Trauma material adapted from the University of Maryland School of Social Work 'Certificate Program in Trauma Treatment' by Lisa Ferentz, LCSW-C, DAPA, Baltimore Maryland.
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Open Heart Christian Counseling
Sue H. McHenry, LCSW-C
Williamsburg, VA 23185
(Please leave a message, professional confidentiality/privacy rules apply)

*Family members of clients - Due to legal restrictions, I cannot return
your calls or e-mails without the client's written permission. Also, to maintain the
trust of my client, I will have to tell them you have contacted me.


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Last updated November 18, 2017
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