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A Wise Adaptation

Day 3: A Trauma Response

I am nervous that the word “trauma” may be on a path towards dilution. This word is used more casually than ever. I hear increasing chatter about “Big T” traumas and “Little T” traumas and what kinds of trauma is actually “traumatic.”

I find all of this talk troubling because it gives so much power to the EVENT and not to what is actually more relevant to someone’s overall well-being—the person’s RESPONSE to the event.

I am proposing a new definition of trauma as it relates to the human experience of a traumatic event--A trauma response is a wise adaptation, grounded in our biological penchant to survive. We are called to grieve this response (usually happening down the road) in order to release the burden that this wise adaptation called us to carry for some time.

Trauma responses run the gamut, for they are adaptations that are specific to surviving a particular circumstance. These wise adaptations can take the form of hyper-vigilance, anxiety, passivity, self-judgements, rage, dissociation, shut-down, etc. I tell my clients—give me a diagnosis you have received and I will remain curious about how this once was a wise adaptation in order to survive.

Much of my work is grounded in helping people figure out how to update their internal systems, offer these adaptations gratitude for the help to survive, and then facilitate a relationship between the adaptation and the now-grown up to do what I like to call a software update—to let the adaptation know it no longer has to continue the same patterns. This work can only be done if it is grounded in compassion and curiosity for how these adaptations came to exist in us.

There will be more posts on the intersection of grief and trauma in subsequent days, as I believe that trauma cannot be separated from grief and grief cannot be separated from trauma.

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