By Laurel Boyd, LPC, LMFTA
Let’s say you are walking along one of the beautiful winding paths of the Natchez Trace on a gorgeous, fall day enjoying God’s creation. Suddenly, you misstep and take a very hard tumble. Thankfully, you don’t think anything is broken, but you have a nasty cut on your leg. Your leg has just experienced a trauma. What do you do now? Well, it depends on how bad the trauma (cut) is and how your body responds to it. Maybe it is just enough to brush yourself off and remind yourself to be more careful. Maybe you need help getting home, but then putting some ointment it is enough. Or maybe you need to go to a hospital and have medical intervention.
As we are going down the winding paths of life, we often face a different kind of trauma—emotional trauma. The various kinds of emotional trauma people face are too numerous to list, but some examples are: abuse, divorce, death of a loved one or close friend, or wayward children. They actually don’t even have to be that extreme. An instance where you felt bullied or had unkind words said to you, had dreams or expectations that were crushed, or not making the sorority you’d planned on, can absolutely be emotional trauma.
Just like a medical trauma, an emotional trauma needs treating. The treatment might simply just be processing through it mentally and reminding yourself to be more careful. Guard your heart so that it’s less likely to happen again if possible—maybe choosing friends that build you up instead of tear you down. Or maybe you need to process it through with someone else. I very strongly think that God made us to be relational. Sometimes the balm is simply to share your experience with someone in your life who listens, and cares, and can validate you. But sometimes the trauma is too much to handle on your own and you need intervention.
It would be ridiculous for a person with a serious injury that needed medical attention to say, “I should be able to handle this on my own. I should be able to just get over this alone.” In the same way, sometimes, emotional trauma needs therapy.
Our brains are absolutely amazing! We have one part of it called the limbic system—where our emotions and experiences are stored. Our thinking and reasoning takes place in a different part—the neocortex. These parts send messages back and forth.
When our brain experiences an emotional trauma, the communication between these two parts can shut off surrounding the issue. We can get a “clog” in our limbic system. I think of it as if we are taking the thing that was too hard to deal with, packing it away in a box, and putting a lid on it. People often refer to this as “sweeping it under the rug.” They just keep it stuck there undealt with in the limbic system.
Unfortunately our brains don’t like having something unprocessed, so oftentimes various pathologies manifest to compensate for the uncomfortableness of our brains wanting to work through something, but us trying to shut our brain up. This can be alcohol, drugs, sex, or even different mental pathologies. At a recent conference I attended on emotional trauma, a statistic was given that up to 79 percent of pathologies—like Borderline Personality Disorder, bipolar disorder, and even ADHD—can be rooted in unresolved trauma.
A trained counselor can help you open up the box that you have hidden away—and slowly and safely unpack the trauma, and process through it. Of course, it does not change what happened. But there is something very healing about bringing it back to the surface and talking through it that allows your brain to reorganize the experience. And when you explore the situation, new facets about it can emerge that allow it to expand to a manageable place in your mind—and ultimately, in your life.
Laurel Boyd, LPC, LMFTA, is a therapist at Summit Counseling of First Baptist Church Jackson. She specializes in couples, families, teens, and drug and alcohol issues. To contact her, please call 601.949.1949 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.