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Trauma Goes Mainstream

March 24, 2022

By Christa Banister

Ever notice how often we’re hearing about trauma these days?

Along with shining a much-needed spotlight on the importance of prioritizing mental health, trauma is also no longer relegated to the psychological lexicon. It’s been a source of national conversation and trending TikTok videos, the zeitgeist of the past decade with more than 5,500 podcasts referencing trauma in the title.

Whether it’s Britney Spears’ younger sister Jamie Lynn’s MSN News comments on finding peace after childhood trauma, or Justin Bieber’s confessional GQ feature where unresolved trauma played a role in his stressful first year of marriage, trauma and its aftereffects are everywhere. Even the plots of popular TV shows including Succession, Euphoria, and perennial favorite Gray’s Anatomy are tackling trauma.

Kicking Stigmas to the Curb

No longer a cultural taboo, there have been a number of celebrity mental health advocates who have opened up about their struggles so that others can feel less alone.

On her latest album, country singer-songwriter Lindsay Ell destigmatizes childhood trauma and grief by sharing the secret “gnawing at her for years” about two separate instances of sexual assault, according to ABC News.

No longer a cultural taboo, there have been a number of celebrity mental health advocates who have opened up about their struggles so that others can feel less alone.

With a Brené Brown-level of vulnerability, comedian Taylor Tomlinson puts her battles with panic attacks, bipolar disorder, and her mother’s death from cancer front and center in her latest Netflix special, Look at You. While many funny women and men use humor to mask their pain, Tomlinson seems content to shine a light on her need for regular therapy and prescribed medication.

Also proving that success doesn’t always equal a peaceful, problem-free existence, actor Zachary Levi (Shazam!, TV’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) opens up about grappling with crippling anxiety and depression in his upcoming biography, Radical Love: Learning to Accept Yourself and Others. His challenges stemmed from childhood trauma and the belief that he “would never be good enough.” After hitting rock bottom, he entered treatment where he learned to address the underlying issues.

A Term Never Intended for Casual Use

In the grand tradition of words that become ubiquitous, trauma has taken on a number of definitions recently, depending on who is discussing it.

During the COVID-19 lockdown, many social media posts alluded to people being “traumatized” by various inconveniences. Stores running out of toilet paper. Not being able to meet up with friends because your favorite restaurant was closed. Eating too many baked goods when boredom crept in.

No doubt, some hyperbole figured into these musings. Maybe some hoped to inject a little humor into an unpredictable situation with no end in sight. Still, it’s important to choose our words carefully. Considering how harrowing the effects of childhood trauma are, it’s important to have a precise definition and stick to it.

While trauma affects no two people the same way, the devastation and the imprint it leaves, forces a response from the body, heart, and mind.

So, what exactly is trauma?

First off, it’s twofold. As clinical psychologist Emily Sachs who specializes in trauma explains in USA Today, it’s “both what happens to a person and their reaction to it.”

Trauma is described as an intense, overwhelming experience involving “serious loss, threat, or harm to a person’s physical and/or emotional well-being.” This broad definition — unlike post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) which has a number of specific symptoms — gives people latitude to identify trauma in their own lives.

While trauma affects no two people the same way, the devastation and the imprint it leaves, forces a response from the body, heart, and mind. Which is why someone’s reactions to say, a loud noise, a crowded room, a stranger you meet at a party, are altered. It’s your body’s way of keeping you safe and shouldn’t be ignored.

Why Your Childhood Experiences Matter

Rather than white-knuckling it through life or pushing traumatic events under the proverbial rug, the recent trend of discussing the subject more openly and honestly is a giant step forward.

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This couldn’t be more vital, especially when it concerns childhood trauma which may stem from:

  • Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse
  • Medical trauma, including a long-term illness or major surgery
  • Grief following the loss of a loved one
  • A natural disaster
  • Violence in the home or community
  • Bullying

When reviewing thousands of cases of childhood trauma, Meadows Senior Fellow Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, along with his colleagues at the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, uncovered a wide range of long-term effects including:

The effects of childhood trauma can linger well into adulthood if left unaddressed. And depending on the intensity of the event(s), the likelihood of negative effects — including substance abuse and self-harm — increases exponentially.

Hope For Those Struggling With Trauma

If you or someone you love is wrestling with the effects of trauma, there is hope and help available. At The Meadows, addressing trauma and its underlying causes has always been at the heart of our treatment program, thanks to Meadows Senior Fellow Pia Mellody’s groundbreaking work on childhood trauma. Using our Meadows Model, we can help you heal the wounds from your past. You don’t have to wait to get well. Reach out today to take the first step toward freedom from trauma.