Trauma in early life is in the eye of the beholder. We all recognize sexual abuse, neglect, violence, verbal abuse and exposure to violence between our parents as trauma but many times from a child’s perspective walking in on your parents in a moment of passion, watching your dog get run over by a car or exposure to bullying can also be traumatic. Many of us who experience trauma as children but go on to experience it as teens and then as adults because we do what we know. As the results of trauma build up in our lives we end up with what I like to call a “Trauma Train”.
This Trauma Train is like any train but in metaphor. In a regular train, if you only have an engine in might take fifty feet to stop in an emergency but if you add a hundred fully loaded box cars it may take a mile to stop in that same emergency. The momentum of the whole ensemble pushes the train and the engineer at the controls can only watch as the whole thing screeches to a stop far past what it would be if only pulling a few box cars. So it is with the Trauma Train. We get into an argument with a spouse and because of past trauma our reaction is far greater than the presenting situation justifies. The momentum of past trauma pushes us past the appropriate response and into the area of response that an objective observer would can inappropriate. If the other person in the argument also has experienced trauma then it’s like two long fully loaded trains meeting on the same track.
Therapy can help. Through counseling you can go through your box cars of trauma baggage one by one and as you gain understanding and perspective of each past trauma let it go and disconnect it from you train. One by one, through therapy, of being mindful of your connection to your past in the moment and through releasing the trauma when viewing childhood trauma now through the eyes of an adult your trauma train will shrink. Then as you dismiss your box cars of trauma baggage and shorten your train you will gain the perspective of your increasing mental health and bring your train to a stop within the appropriateness of the presenting situation.
Until then be careful. If you know your car has bad breaks, drive appropriately. Don’t race up to stop signs, tailgate others or speed in school zones. If you know you have experienced trauma be careful in social situations. Be prepared to step out of confrontations and arguments before they escalate out of your control. Get in to see a therapist as soon as you can and begin to deal with past trauma before it deals with you. History tends to repeat itself if not understood and that goes double for personal history that includes past trauma.
You may have been a victim in your past but as soon as you recognize that you stop being a victim and become a volunteer if you continue to relive past trauma into your present situations. You might never fully recover from child abuse but you can stop the carnage by reminding yourself that you need a mile to stop before you start and then to get yourself in therapy so that you don’t need a mile to stop when you see someone you love standing in your tracks.