Are your mental health symptoms the result of trauma?



50% of individuals who seek out any type of therapy, including marriage therapy, have a major trauma in their past. (statistic from "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel Van Der Kolk, 2015)


When most think "trauma," they think PTSD, and, "That's only happens to soldiers, or people who are sexually abused." Many do not realize that their irritability, anxiety, depression, marriage problems, or misdiagnosed Bipolar Disorder, may actually due to trauma disorder that is not PTSD. And because people don't realize this, they don't realize that they can be permanently free of these symptoms with trauma therapy such as EMDR, which is often quite brief and painless.


It would exhaust the space I have here to explain the different types of trauma disorders, so I will go with the most common: developmental trauma. This is a specific type of trauma disorder related to childhood experiences. I like to think of PTSD as the "face punch" of trauma disorders, whereas developmental trauma is the "gut punch." PTSD is all about the impact of severe symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares, or extreme anxiety and avoidance of triggers for symptoms. While developmental trauma often has some of that impact, its main negative impact is on strongly held irrational beliefs that the trauma creates, held at a "heart level" perhaps since childhood.


For instance, after betrayal and abuse by a family member, a child may come to accept that "I can't trust anyone," or "It's all my fault," or "I am damaged for life." If nothing is done, this belief with all of its effects can continue into adulthood (anxiety, depression, irritability, damaged relationships, low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, or intrusive or humiliating self-thoughts). That is developmental trauma. And that is much different from classic PTSD, in which the primary issue is that the trauma feels like it is still happening.


An adult with developmental trauma may not may fully realize on a "head" level that the trauma is over, but the heart is still very hurt. Adults with developmental trauma may find themselves unintentionally reliving the trauma, for instance by getting into abusive relationships. Adults with developmental trauma may develop addictions, or even physical illnesses, and may experience anxious or depressive or other mental health symptoms. However, unlike PTSD, an adult with developmental trauma may not connect their symptoms to the trauma.


Most trauma therapies are helpless to deal with developmental trauma, unless the developmental trauma also has the "face punch" intensity of PTSD. But this is rarely the case, especially in the worst cases of developmental trauma such as emotional abuse or emotional/physical neglect. For instance, an individual might say that a terrible car accident, which doesn't have much impact on how they live their life, is disturbing at a "10 out of 10," and produces all sorts of horrible flashbacks and intrusions and anxiety. However, an individual might report that childhood emotional abuse is disturbing at a low-level "3 out of 10"--even though the toxicity of this experience has turned their life into a living hell.


Fortunately, unlike any other research-proven trauma therapies, EMDR deals with all types of trauma at the level of belief. As a result, it can produce powerful, total cures in cases of "low disturbance" developmental trauma. You can learn much more about EMDR on my home page or in other posts (sort by topic).


Developmental trauma was identified as a major problem as early as the 1800's, when Joseph Breuer and his young student Sigmund Freud published "Studies on Hysteria," in which they connected traumatic experiences to psychological and physical symptoms. More recently, however, the ACE study of Adverse Childhood Experiences looked at ten types of possibly traumatic experiences children often have, including abuse, neglect, the loss of a parent, and other issues like this. The ACE study proved without doubt that childhood trauma leads to very negative adult outcomes. Only four adverse experiences resulted in a 700% increase in alcoholism, for instance, as well as a 500% increase in heart disease and a 1,440% increase in IV drug use. Six adverse experiences led to a 4,600% increase in IV drug use, and a 5000% increase in suicide. Adverse childhood experiences even predicted a significantly increased risk of cancer!


Developmental trauma is often not "scary" like PTSD, but untreated, it is the foundation for a terrible life. If you are looking for a life change, stop asking yourself what is "wrong" with you, and go tell a trained trauma therapist like me what has happened to you.