Did you know that there are two main classifications of trauma?
They are different in some ways, similar in others. They can overlap or occur separately.
Shock trauma comes from a sudden, singular event, such as a car accident or assault, physical injury, the unexpected death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. A person’s experience of war may be filled with multiple instances of shock trauma. Some seemingly routine, innocuous medical procedures can leave the nervous system in a post-traumatic state, even despite the best efforts of the medical staff.
This category of trauma is so named because it usually involves the person experiencing some degree of shock. Medical shock is often associated with physical injury or impact, and it may pose an immediate threat to life. Medical shock requires the immediate attention of a qualified medical practitioner. It can co-occur with emotional shock, which involves some degree of dissociation and emotional/physical numbness. Emotional shock may occur without medical shock; and it can go unnoticed for a long time. It must be addressed first before deeper trauma healing work can proceed.
Developmental trauma occurs when an infant or child does not receive the nurturing or support s/he needs for his or her nervous system to fully develop. This is important: A child’s nervous system knows how to “wind up” into distress, but it does not know how to settle or calm itself. A child’s nervous system is dependent on the caregiver to regulate it. Over time, nurturing interactions with a calm and loving caregiver, teaches the nervous system how to calm itself and adapt to changing external circumstances.
In my experience, I have found that people don’t always know that they have developmental trauma, or that their nervous systems are still in need of support. Developmental trauma often underlies otherwise unexplained cases of depression, anxiety, rigidity, relationship problems, and failure to recover from a seemingly small life event.
Please note that developmental trauma can result from bad parenting, but this is not always the case. Many unavoidable circumstances can cause stress on the child, or stress on the family that they can’t help but pass on to the child. Examples include family illness, a death in the family, poverty, living with war, and some instances of parental grief, anxiety or depression.
These are two distinct types of trauma. It is important for the therapist to understand the differences in how they appear, as well as how to treat them.
Child abuse is an example of shock and developmental trauma occurring together. So is the untimely death of a parent.
The good news is, just like other animals, humans have a remarkable ability to grow, improve and recover, even in adulthood and old age. We are designed to overcome adversity, and you might be amazed at how much recovery is possible with the proper support. The principle of neuroplasticity refers to the brain and nervous system’s ability to change rather than staying static. I have seen people in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s engage in SE and experience substantial improvements.
So, don’t give up! You can educate yourself about trauma and how to help body, mind and spirit release it.