What is Trauma?


My first big surprise when I was going through the Initial Trauma Recovery Coaching program happened on the very first night of class when I learned what trauma really was. Not just what I thought it was. It's an important distinction because I think many people who are not trauma-informed (read my post here on what trauma-informed means) view trauma the same way I used to in that trauma was a big, horrific event that happened in someone's life and traumatized them. 

That's not untrue but it's not a complete picture either. Trauma actually covers a wide range of events, experiences, and emotions. There are three central criteria that we learned define trauma and those are as follows:

  • The individuals feel they are powerless to control the circumstance or event

  • The circumstance or event intensely frightens the individual

  • The circumstance or event changes the individual’s beliefs about themselves, the world and their interactions with the world

And going off those three criteria is a statement that changed my entire worldview:

Every individual is the expert of their own trauma.

~ Bobbi L. Parish

So what does that mean, exactly? It means that trauma cannot be defined as a collective whole or thought of as one size fits all. It means that the trauma I've earned may be less or more traumatizing to you. It means that a circumstance or event that may be traumatic for one person, might not be for another. It's individual, specific and complex -- just like the person who is experiencing it. 

This is the primary reason that so many trauma survivors are not getting the help or care they need. They're often misdiagnosed with mental illnesses (which is not to say that they don't actually have those mental illnesses) but right now, many in the medical field are approaching trauma survivors as a collective whole and that's not the best way to help a trauma survivor. 

To help a trauma survivor means doing the hard work of recovery. And let me assure you, it is hard work. But any trauma survivor that is serious about their recovery knows this is an integral step to "getting better." Trauma survivors are migrating to Trauma Coaches because of our education in trauma, our own experiences with it and the methods with which we approach our coaching. 

For the first time in a long time, there is a group of people who understand that treating trauma needs to be as individualized as the person seeking it. And it may be the first time in a trauma survivor's life that they've had someone invested in their recovery. That's why I'm doing this. I want to be that person who makes sure a trauma survivor knows that they matter.