What Is Trauma? PTSD & Beyond
When I mention what I do for a living and especially when I use the word trauma people usually ask about working with veterans. Trauma is synonymous with PTSD and this leads most people to think of soldiers and usually that person pictures a male soldier. Most vets receive services through the VA though not always. And usually they are most comfortable working with another vet.
So if I don’t see folks who were in combat, who do I see? Well, most folks with a PTSD diagnosis are women. Given that one in four women in her lifetime will be sexually assaulted and that more women identify more trauma in childhood, it’s no surprise. The Center for Disease Control noticed a startling link between experiencing adverse events in childhood and several other health problems. This lead to the Adverse Childhood Events survey that consists of 10 questions about negative experiences. Roughly 2/3 of all people who take the ACE questionnaire answer yes to at least one event. When you look at women, one in four women answer yes to 3 or more items on the ACE survey.
If it sounds like an overwhelming number of traumatized people, you’re right. Some people will quip over some instances of bullying or examples from the ACE and say, “How is that traumatizing? It’s not like their life is in danger.” Except, often, it is. Folks who experience abuse or neglect in childhood are at a higher risk for suicide attempts. For folks who are harassed or bullied, particularly lesbian, gay and bisexual teens the risk is higher; for transgender identified folks the risk is even higher.
All right, there are a lot of traumatized folks, do they all have PTSD?
Nope. Many people who grew up in abusive or neglectful homes do not meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD. However, often they meet criteria for anxiety disorders, OCD, phobias or panic disorders, depression, dysthymia or other mood disorders. They frequently have some characteristics of PTSD, like reexperiencing nightmares or dissociative symptoms, but don’t technically meet criteria.
Well, I’ve had bad things happen to me and I turned out fine.
I’m glad. Maybe your parents were truly loving, understanding folks that helped you through dark times. Or maybe, even if your parents were often hurtful, someone else was in your life to show you enough love that you feel you’ve healed. That’s a wonderful thing that I wish for everyone who has experienced trauma from abuse. For many people, getting to that healing place involves therapy. It might also involve a regular yoga practice, meditation, establishing fantastic relationships, getting a dog and naming it after a beloved literary character. Many people who answer yes to one or more question on the ACE hold down a job, they’re married or in a long-term relationship, they have kids; all the hallmarks of someone doing well. But sometimes they feel like they are white knuckling it through life. They might be suffering from chronic mysterious gastrointestinal pain, waking up in cold sweats during the night, throwing up in the bathroom after every major work presentation due to nerves or quite often feel depressed. Here’s the CDC research that links several health and social issues to experiencing trauma in childhood.
If you have an inkling that you’d answer yes to one or more questions on the ACE quiz, feel free to take my modified version. If you want to take the survey anonymously, please don’t give your name or contact information. I have no way of knowing who took the survey if you don’t provide any contact information and you can still view results in the browser. If you answer yes to one or more questions you’re not alone and therapy can help.