Most people hear trauma or PTSD and they think one of three things: a military veteran who has served in a time of war, a major incident like a car accident, or a violent sexual assault. All of these are traumatic and cause PTSD but trauma is a vast spectrum that ranges from smaller experiences to more intense and impactful ones. And interpersonal trauma causes its own particular kind of harm, often leading to self blame, low self-esteem, and low self worth that can have serious impacts on our lives. Working with women in therapy, we see this everyday and we want to help women heal from those past experiences so they can feel better about themselves today.
The difference between PTSD and Trauma
PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a diagnosis used to categorize a set of symptoms a person can experience after a major traumatic event like the ones listed above. In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, symptoms have to be severe enough to disrupt major areas of life like work or relationships. Trauma is the psychological impact of an event in which there was actual harm or the threat of harm to yourself or a loved one. Trauma is a normal reaction to abnormal experiences and is experienced on a spectrum of severity from small impacts to serious impairment like PTSD. You can have trauma without PTSD but you can not experience PTSD without trauma.
When people hurt people
When those abnormal experiences or harm are caused deliberately or unintentionally by another person, it’s known as interpersonal trauma. Interpersonal meaning between people. The impact of this type of harm is different from something like a car accident. The world can be a scary place, we know car accidents happen, freak accidents happen, but people are not supposed to hurt each other. And worse, our family or trusted loved ones are not supposed to hurt us. So when someone we should be able to trust hurts us, of course those wounds cut deeper and take longer to heal.
What does it look like
When we are young, interpersonal trauma can be as small as not getting our physical or emotional needs met by caregivers. Maybe they worked multiple jobs or were depressed or chronically ill. Interpersonal trauma can include witnessing abuse of a parent or loved one, your own abuse, or having your experiences invalidated by being told to “get over it” or “suck it up”. It can also take the shape of bullying or rejection from peers or being mistreated by a sibling.
Women in particular face more subtle types of interpersonal trauma including criticism of looks, weight, or intelligence, being told “it’s all in your head”, “you're crazy”, or that something is your fault. Women face higher rates of intimate partner violence, sexual assault, and verbal abuse. The impacts of these experiences can be worsened by lack of resources, the added stress of having to care for family members or children, or social pressure to put the needs and wants of others before your own.
Tell tale signs you’ve been impacted by trauma
Reactions to trauma can show up in a number of ways including, anxiety or depression, difficulty with trust, overthinking, trouble sleeping or eating, perfectionism, disassociation or “spacing out”, a need to be in control, having a hard time relaxing, and intense emotional reactions. It can also look like being overly independent, exhaustion, self sabotage in relationships or work, difficulty saying “no '' or putting your own needs first. Those abnormal experiences can come from major accidents, abuse, discrimination and marginalization, or from much more subtle mistreatment.
Not feeling good enough, low self-worth and low self esteem are the biggest tell tale signs that some form of interpersonal trauma has been experienced. We are not born feeling not good enough. We have a natural tendency to blame ourselves so if something has gone wrong in relationships, we will likely turn the blame on ourselves and say “well it must be me”. Again, this is a natural reaction to the abnormal events of mistreatment. It’s human nature to blame yourself. This often leads to self criticism and being generally unkind to yourself in lots of ways.
This is something you can heal from.
At Virago Wellness, we help the women we work with in therapy recognize the traumatic experiences they’ve had and the ripple effects it has in their lives now. We support women in being able to rewire their reactions and to learn to be kind to themselves. If you feel you’ve experienced trauma and are ready to be free from that self blame and criticism, start work with a therapist. The work can be intense but the gifts that come on the other side of that work are invaluable. It could change your life. Contact us today to find out more.