Understanding and Overcoming Trauma

After my mother’s stroke, heart attack, and subsequent dementia, my sister who oversaw her health decisions told me she felt traumatized. It made me wonder: at what point does a difficult experience become a traumatic experience?

What is trauma?

According to Dr. Gabor Mate, trauma does not refer to the events, but to the wounds that result from the events. He says this is a good thing because events cannot be changed, but wounds can be healed. The wound remains dormant until it is touched, at which time we experience a triggering effect. We react as though we are being wounded for the first time.

Once we are wounded, we feel a sense of being disconnected from our true selves. Our vulnerability shuts down, and our growth stops. If events from the past are affecting our present, we can define those events as traumatic.

What types of events cause trauma?

When Dr. Gabor worked in British Columbia with addicts and people in prisons, he discovered that almost all had suffered childhood traumas which then affected decisions made as adults. When we talk about trauma, we refer to big-T events such as:

  • Abuse (sexual, emotional, financial, physical)
  • Neglect
  • Withholding of love
  • Divorce and/or child custody battles
  • Death of a loved one
  • Violence

Small-T events could be:

  • Bullying
  • Silent treatment
  • Lack of acceptance, perhaps due to parental trauma
  • Constant arguments

How does trauma affect us?

After experiencing trauma, we become disconnected from ourselves. We have difficulty dealing with emotions, and we tend to withdraw. It affects how our brains develop, how we interact with each other, and how we show empathy and compassion. It blocks freedom of choice so that we react instead of respond. We suppress our gut feelings, and since we may have learned that showing emotion was dangerous, we may have pushed down our emotions. This can lead to depression, anxiety, or OCD. If we feel a need to escape, we may turn to addiction. We feel unlovable and unhappy. We might compare ourselves to how we used to feel and see ourselves as a shell of what we used to be.

As teachers, we are considered intelligent, so we may respond with shame and feel as though our trauma was our fault. We may emotionally beat ourselves up for not being able to control the situation or experience the grief of losing our identity. If a flight is canceled, we might project instant frustrations. Questions in a certain tone come across as attacks. Being questioned makes us feel invalidated; people who believe in themselves accept questions. Our bodies may even respond by developing physical ailments — our likelihood of having heart attacks, autoimmune diseases, cancer, or MS increases.

The mind and body are interconnected. Trauma can cause us to want to please and repress anger, which then causes stress. Women are typically affected more because we are often raised to be nice, people please, and take care of others. Sensitive individuals tend to experience trauma more deeply.

How do we heal after trauma?

Contrary to popular belief, time does not heal all wounds. Healing requires work. First, we must recognize that we are carrying trauma. We need to work through our experiences so that we can rediscover ourselves and become whole again. We must be conscious about what happened to us, not see what is ‘wrong’ with us. It’s important to reframe our reactions, find space for our emotions, and validate them

It can be helpful to delve into the past, but not to identify as a ‘victim’ or ‘survivor.’ Identification limits us. We need to acknowledge our pain, learn to forgive, and be authentic to ourselves. Eventually, we will reach the point where our past no longer dominates our present. Having someone in our life to help us remember is more healing than trying to do it on our own. We need to look for rhythms that give us energy such as meditation, exercise, or group activities. Keeping a journal of our feelings can also be a helpful outlet.

Where can I receive formal help for trauma?

If you would like to seek formal help to heal from trauma, a good first step for ARTA members is to sign up for Greenshield Counselling, which is included with all ARTA Benefit Plans. Your counsellor will be able to help you identify your trauma, and if necessary, point you toward additional resources that fit your needs.

Terry Whitehead
Member, Wellness Committee


  1. theembodylab.com with Dr. Gabor Mate, Dr. Peter Levine, Dr. Albert Wong, Nkem Ndefo, and Dr. Scott Lyons.
  2. nicabm.com with Dr. Peter Levine, et al
  3. susie-moore.com with Dr. Gabor Mate