Part 1: Be Aware of Adverse Childhood Experiences
One of the questions I have been receiving since my article on marriage and childhood trauma is: “How do I know if my spouse or fiancé has experienced childhood trauma?” As we consider whether a loved one is experiencing traumatic stress, it is key to establish what trauma is. With that in place, we are then better able to explore whether a loved one may be experiencing traumatic stress.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is not determined simply by an event or an environment. What makes the event traumatic is the impact it has had on the individual. Certainly, some types of events and dynamics are more typical of being experienced as traumatic, as you will see below. But not everyone who experiences the same event suffers traumatic stress. For example, two people may witness a violent crime. One may experience traumatic stress and the other may not.
So what exactly makes the event a traumatic experience? A traumatic event, in very simple terms, involves an isolated experience or an ongoing dynamic or ongoing dynamics that completely overwhelm the individual's ability to cope or to integrate the ideas and emotions involved with that experience. Here, it is crucial to understand that a person who has experienced childhood trauma does not always register it as trauma, even as an adult. So while the event may be causing tremendous traumatic stress, the adult survivor may be unaware that some of what they are experiencing is traumatic stress.
How Can I Tell If My Spouse Is Experiencing the Effects of Trauma?
One of the ways to help determine if a spouse has unresolved traumatic stress is to know the adverse childhood experiences that can cause traumatic stress. From there, you can explore if your spouse has endured any of those adverse childhood experiences.
As we delve into a list of adverse childhood experiences, it is important to note that even if someone has had any of the following experiences, it does not automatically mean they have unresolved issues from trauma. There are several factors that play a part in whether or not the event caused lasting traumatic stress, or even any traumatic stress at all. One such factor to be taken into account is the presence of a nurturing adult in the child’s life. A loving and supportive grandparent, a tuned in teacher, or a safe and positive neighbor can help to build resilience and to foster healing in a child. Another factor is the frequency of the event, not just the intensity of the event. A seemingly “mild” difficult event that happens repeatedly can cause as much traumatic stress as a one-time horrific event. Whether or not the child had access to help and to appropriate intervention is also a key factor in whether the event causes longterm traumatic stress. This means that the below list is a helpful guide, not a diagnostic chart.
Adverse Childhood Experiences that Lend Themselves to Traumatic Stress
If your loved one has suffered any of the below adverse childhood experiences, and certainly if he suffered them with any amount of repetition and frequency, it is very possible that he has experienced childhood trauma.
One of the things I have discovered over the years is that trauma is filled with nuances. Every trauma experience is unique because it has its own variables. One of the best ways to begin to understand the impact of your spouse’s life experiences is to know his story. Listen to him share. Be curious, be caring, and be kind as he shares.
This list might not reflect only your spouse’s experiences. Perhaps you found some of your life experiences chronicled there. If that’s the case, be patient, caring, and kind with yourself. Seeking help in order to process the trauma that might be there is one of the best gifts you can give yourself and your family.
In the next post I’ll explore, among other things, the behaviors that point to unresolved trauma.
For help resolving traumatic stress, you are welcome to contact us here.
Copyright © 2018 Dr. Dawn-Marie Pearson
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