For many of us, trauma is something “big”: a car accident, the loss of a loved one, a disturbing event or tragic series of events. However, did you know that trauma can also be less obvious and more pervasive, affecting how we function on a day-to-day basis? In this week’s blog and podcast, I speak to holistic psychologist Nicole LaPera about the difference between primary and secondary trauma, the power of holistic mental wellness, how to heal childhood trauma and why we cannot ignore the mind-brain-body connection.
As Nicole points out, primary trauma is often seen as the only kind of trauma we can experience. It is associated with acute events, including different kinds of abuse, neglect, distress and so on. But this is not the only kind of trauma we face as human beings. Secondary trauma is more expansive and, in many cases, less obvious. It occurs when our holistic needs—emotional, physical and mental—are not met, especially in childhood. As a result, we feel less integrated and not valued or seen as a unique person. We have to find a way to cope with these feelings, which often affects how we function and can leave us feeling stuck and broken.
Indeed, most, if not all, of us have some childhood wounds we carry into adulthood, which affect how we function unless we face and deal with them. Childhood is a very vulnerable period in our lives: we are growing, developing and learning how to see ourselves and the world around us. Unfortunately, the adults in the room are often dealing with their own secondary trauma and issues, which can affect how they relate to us as children. This, in turn, can affect how we ourselves function as adults—soon, a very toxic, generational cycle of secondary trauma can be set up!
This is why it is so important that, as parents and guardians, we are authentic with our children. We should not just tell them what to do and how to handle life—we should model these behaviors in our own lives, so that our children can know that it is normal to struggle and deal with stuff—that this is not a deficiency or biological fault. Be open and authentic: allow your children to see the struggle, because this is where real resilience comes from.
There is no shame in battling with our emotions or dealing with secondary trauma. We are interpersonal creatures in our relationships: we all need to feel that we are seen, heard and valued. A lot of us battle with our emotions and find them overwhelming. Feeling isn’t always fun, but it is necessary, and you will feel much better and more empowered along the way if you don’t try to suppress what you are experiencing!
We all need to embrace, process and reconceptualize what we go through, not push it down, or we may experience compassion fatigue. This is when we start to resent putting other people’s needs before our own. We need to learn how to release our emotions more fully so we can get the help we need before it starts impacting us and our relationships. As I always point out, emotions are volcanic by nature; they will explode sooner or later, and can lead to mental and physical breakdowns if we don’t face, process and deal with them, which takes time and effort. This is one of the reasons I created the SWITCH app, which is a great tool for helping you learn how to manage your mind, deal with the roots of your trauma, and overcome negative thought patterns and behaviors that impact your mental and physical health through the mental process of reconceptualization (it is now on sale less 50% for a 3-month subscription).
When you feel this burnout and compassion fatigue coming in, you should not ignore it. Learn to be more compassionate and accepting of your choices, and listen to what you feel you need when you need it. If you choose to take a break and rest, don’t beat yourself up for pulling back, not working or saying no. Allow yourself to drop into the moment and enjoy it!
Once you feel rested, start working on getting to the root of why you feel the way you do by facing, processing and dealing with your emotions (as mentioned above). What is driving how you feel? Why do you do what you do? Remember, it’s okay to feel uncomfortable during this process. Change is often hard and difficult, and other things will come to the surface, which is why it takes consistent daily effort to shift our thinking and habits. If you have been living a certain way for decades, you cannot expect to change everything overnight. So, keep on keeping on, because coming out on the other side is so worth it!
For more information on the trauma and mental health listen to my podcast with Nicole (episode #172), and check out her website and Instagram. If you enjoy listening to my podcast please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family, and on social media (don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
2:35 How Nicole learnt to manage her own trauma and anxiety
7:30 The holistic shift in mental healthcare: we cannot just focus on our biology
8:55 Nicole’s spiritual journey
11:04 What is the difference between primary and secondary trauma?
18:20 Childhood trauma and secondary trauma
25:11 How can parents can help their children deal with trauma
29:22 What is compassion fatigue?
43:00 Why it takes daily, consistent effort to reconnect with ourselves
48:45 What do you do when you feel a traumatic breakdown coming on?
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