A basic dictionary definition of trauma is “a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” This is certainly appropriate to an extent. But when we refer to trauma here, and what is being addressed in Lifespan Integration therapy (LI), the definition is more nuanced and more complex.
In the counseling world, trauma is not just the disturbing experience itself, but the lingering after-effects. Trauma, in other words, can affect our ability to function in the present, even though it occurred in the past.
Many, when thinking about trauma, think about war veterans who have been in highly violent environments. These veterans come home somehow carrying their previous experiences with them. These previous experiences often affect their system so profoundly that they often have a hard time reintegrating into everyday civilian life.
So, in essence, when talking about trauma, we are talking not just about what happened in the past, but what happens following a stressful or traumatic event. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) states that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occurs following exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence.
But a traumatic response can also happen in more subtle ways, for example, in families where emotional bonding wasn’t fully successful, either by abusive behavior or emotional neglect. Either way, emotional needs are not met, and effects are felt long after the traumatic event is over. These effects can persist long after the trauma takes place, affecting a person’s ability to relate, give or receive love, or manage stress.