Sometimes it takes going through the darkest of experiences to discover the light within us.
Trauma—it’s a word that carries a weighty significance. It’s a response to an experience that can push us beyond our limits, leaving us feeling helpless, hopeless, and overwhelmed. It could be a sudden and shocking event like a natural disaster or an act of violence, or it could be an ongoing experience of emotional abuse or neglect. When we experience trauma, our body and mind respond in ways that can help us survive the moment, but the effects can linger long after the event has passed. Dr. Gabor Mate, a renowned Canadian physician, and the author has spent his career exploring the impact of trauma on our mental and physical health. He believes that unresolved trauma can underlie a vast array of issues, from addiction to chronic pain and anxiety to autoimmune disorders. So, what is trauma, and how can it affect us? Let’s take a closer look.
The 7 Impacts of Trauma as per Dr. Gabor Mate
1. Separation from the self
Dr. Gabor Mate explains that the word trauma itself comes from the Greek for “wound,” and rightly so. Trauma shrinks our emotional and psychological capacity, leaving us wounded and diminished. But it’s not just what happens to us externally—it’s the internal impact that truly defines trauma. Think about those gut feelings we get when something doesn’t feel quite right, and how we often ignore them to our own detriment. If we’re left in the wild and do not listen to our gut feelings or intuition, chances are that we’ll be dead. That’s the first sign of trauma: a separation from ourselves and our most powerful intuition.
2. Disconnection from others
But the impact of trauma doesn’t stop there. It can also leave us feeling disconnected from those around us, unable to trust or fully connect with others. This sense of isolation can be profound and often drives people toward addiction to fill the void. Ironically, addiction only serves to reinforce that sense of loneliness and mistrust. It’s a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break without addressing the root cause—the trauma that keeps us emotionally and socially detached.
3. A distorted view of the world
The effects of trauma extend far beyond just our personal feelings and experiences. In fact, the way we see the world can be radically altered by the trauma we’ve endured. If we view the world as a hostile, dangerous, and untrustworthy place, it’s easy to imagine how that might color our interactions with others and our general sense of well-being. On the other hand, if we see the world as fundamentally good despite the suffering and struggles, we all face, our outlook on life is bound to be vastly different.
This distorted view of the world can have far-reaching consequences, impacting everything from our relationships to our work and even our physical health. When we feel disconnected from the world and mistrustful of others, it can be difficult to find joy and fulfillment in our daily lives. This is where the impact of trauma becomes truly insidious—it’s not just a personal issue, but one that affects our entire worldview and, ultimately, our ability to thrive in the world.
4. Lifelong pain
Another impact of trauma is lifelong pain, which seems all-consuming and impossible to escape from. Dr. Mate argues that trauma creates a wound that may have some scar tissue over it, but the wound is never truly healed. What’s worse, the pain of trauma can be so overwhelming that we may feel the need to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to try and numb the pain. Whether it’s substance abuse, self-harm, or other forms of destructive behavior, these coping mechanisms only serve to compound our pain and create even more suffering in the long run. The way to cope with this pain is to deal with it.
5. Cognitive development: trauma inhibits brain development
Trauma can impact how our brains develop, particularly in self-regulation. Unlike adults, who can manage their stress, children lack self-regulation skills. Adults can take a break, calm themselves down, and later come up with better solutions to deal with the stress. However, children cannot do that. Hence, a child’s brain requires the mature function of an adult’s brain to regulate itself. But what if an adult’s brain does not respond maturely due to a lack of the right conditions for healthy development? As a result, individuals who experienced trauma may struggle with managing their emotions and behaviors throughout their lives.
6. Dealing with personal shame
Trauma has a nasty way of making us feel bad about ourselves. It’s not just about what we’ve done, but who we are as a person. It’s a shame-based view that we have of ourselves as if we’re not good enough or not worthy of love or respect. We feel like we don’t belong like we’re different from everyone else. It’s a twisted sense of self that trauma gives us, and one that we carry with us every day.
Furthermore, the shame that arises from trauma can be difficult to shake off. It can become ingrained in our sense of self, coloring our every thought and action. We may find ourselves constantly second-guessing ourselves, doubting our abilities, and feeling unworthy of success or happiness.
Also, shame can impact the way we interact with others. We may feel unworthy of connection and intimacy, pushing others away or sabotaging our relationships. Alternatively, we may become overly reliant on others for validation, seeking out approval and acceptance at any cost.
7. The absence of being present
Trauma is like a time machine that takes us back to the past and keeps us trapped there, making it difficult to live in the present. It’s as if we’re wearing a pair of glasses that tint everything we see with the colors of our past experiences. We may think we’re reacting to the present, but the truth is we’re reacting to the ghosts of our past.
We may have the best intentions to help our loved ones, but if we’re stuck in the past, we’re unable to be fully present for them. We must remember that while we are here for each other, we are also here for ourselves. Only when we can be present in the moment can we truly be there for others and ourselves.
Does Self-Realization Heal Trauma?
Dr. Gabor Mate has a unique perspective on suffering: it’s not the pain that causes it but rather our resistance to it. This truth, he says, has only become clear to us recently. We’ve spent our entire lives carrying the weight of pain and the resistance to that pain, particularly when it comes to childhood trauma.
In his own life, Dr. Mate has experienced this firsthand. As a Jew living in Hungary during the Nazi occupation, he and his family were devastated by the genocide. They were forced to endure conditions of privation and terror for a year, during which he and his parents were separated from each other when he was a child. The traumatic events of that time left deep imprints on his body and mind, just as they did for so many others who lived through that nightmare.
Dr. Mate suggests that trauma is not simply a painful event but rather the wound that is left behind. It’s as if a scar has formed around the wound, making it sensitive and painful to touch. At the same time, the scar tissue is hard and inflexible, making it difficult to heal. And wounds that are sustained cannot be healed at any time.
But here’s the good news: trauma is not a life sentence. Dr. Mate believes that any wound can be healed, no matter how deep it may be. All it takes is a willingness to reconnect with our true selves and to accept and love ourselves just the way we are. Self-affirmation and love can be reconnected since they were never lost; they were just covered up by this wound and scar.
However, in today’s fast-paced society, many of us are uncomfortable with spending time with ourselves and facing our wounds head-on. Instead, we turn to distractions like social media which push us to develop a false identity of ourselves, instead of being our true authentic selves. We constantly check our phones and fill our lives with unnecessary activities and things. But Dr. Mate reminds us that true healing can only occur when we face our wounds and accept ourselves for who we are. As Dr. Mate rightly says, ‘’Healing happens with the self-realization of ourselves as we are in the body, in the mind, and in the heart.’’
He further believes that each one of us has the power to bend the future in a humane and loving direction, but it starts with self-realization and self-love. So the question is, are you willing to take that first step toward healing?
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