One of the things that is really important to understand about trauma is that trauma stays with us. Trauma comes stuck and remains unprocessed when it’s not dealt with appropriately at the time.
When we have a traumatic experience, if the people around us that are supporting us in our lives at that point are validating our experience and echoing our perception of a certain sense of events, then although that might be difficult and painful, we are able to process that trauma and we are able to move on. What happens to so many of us is that the people around us don’t do that. When we’re told something isn’t a big deal or that we’re making a big fuss about nothing or when somebody doesn’t even acknowledge that something traumatic has gone on, then we internalise that experience and we become ‘the problem’. We recognise that something has happened – something that we feel really uncomfortable or distressed about – but everybody else is acting as though it is ok, so the problem must be us. We then internalise a message about ourselves in relation to that trauma and that’s when the internal conflict begins and something becomes stuck and unprocessed.
As we go through life, we form different strategies and ways of coping with that stuck trauma. We do that through a series of tools that we develop along the way. Some of those tools might be really helpful to us but some can be really destructive. So what today we describe as mental illness, in my mind, are responses to trying to cope with those traumas.
Rather than focusing all of our attention on managing the symptoms of the problem, for me, it’s about resourcing ourselves to develop better ways of coping and to recognise those early traumas that have been stuck. Give yourself permission to validate them yourself and space to acknowledge that you actually had an experience that was painful, that was difficult, and from that point, you are able to move forward.