We all hear a lot about trauma these days. It seems to be a sort of buzz word, perhaps becoming so common as to lose its meaning. And yet we are hearing about trauma for a reason. Science is catching up to what so many of us know: that an event or series of events so painful and so profound can change us and even cripple us, sometimes for life.
There are different kinds of trauma. There is what I've heard called the "big T" trauma: the natural disaster, horrific warfare, the unthinkable catastrophe that comes out of left field. That is what most people think of when they think of trauma. And those events certainly fit the bill. PTSD is very real.
And yet there is a different kind of trauma. I've heard it called the "little t" trauma. Sometimes it is developmental trauma. Sometimes it relational trauma. They call what follows complex-ptsd or c-ptsd. And complex it is.
So why do some people cruise through hard events with nary a scratch and others wrestle with the intense mental and emotional and even physical pain and disability for years...or a lifetime? Especially when it comes to the "little t" trauma, what make trauma...well...trauma?
"Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness."
When I first read this quote from Peter Levine then it all made sense. It is the "in the absence of an empathetic witness" that is, to me, the most crucial point. It certainly has been in my life. When I think of the hard things in my life, the most painful events by far, especially in my childhood, happened when I was utterly and completely alone. There was nobody to turn to. Absolutely nobody. Even now when I try to describe those times, the pain can take my breath away.
I think that some types of family dysfunction are so much more damaging than others because some things are absolutely isolating. There is nobody to turn to.
Let's look at the Adverse Childhood Experiences, the ten traumatic experiences measured the CDC-Kaiser Permanente Study, what do you have?
-Abuse: verbal and emotional, physical, sexual
-Neglect: emotional, physical
-Separation or divorce of parents
-Domestic abuse of mother
-Mental illness of household member
-Substance abuse of household member
-Incarceration of household member
The litmus test for trauma-responsive faith communities is how leaders and laypeople respond to the vulnerable sharing of trauma.