What does it mean to be a survivor of trauma? It is likely that most of us have experienced losses that shake our world, but only some (roughly 25%) end up with a trauma response strong enough to qualify for a diagnosis of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There are many contributing factors to this situation; environment, personality, resources and physiology; to name a few of the elements that establish our point of view. In other words, who and where we are in our lives may make us more or less resilient when life throws harsh challenges our way. Trauma is not a particular event, but a circumstance; a perception of extreme loss of control and impending doom.
Looking at PTSD in this way may help us to understand the mechanisms that block forward movement from such circumstances. If I feel unprepared and unsupported in a situation that threatens me, I am more likely to freeze up or shut down. The perspective that I have is one of being trapped in a place of terror. Since our brains are made to categorize information and problem-solve solutions, this creates a glitch around unprocessed emotions. If we compare brain functioning to a computer model, this circumstance might be viewed as a virus that causes the hardrive to keep retracing the same data in an effort to reach a solution. Since there is none available, there is a great deal of energy put into reviewing the data, instead of attending to the next important project. It is likely that the unprocessed data will further be introduced into current problem solving in disruptive and distorting ways.
If it were possible to change something about the trauma perspective, we might be in a position to move out of the stuck place. Mindfulness based practices have been found to offer such options, changing perspectives through understanding their meaning differently. We might be able to look back to those times when our resources were lacking, or information was distorted by a depressed parent or a frustrated teacher, for example. From there we have an opportunity to direct compassion to our own childhood state, (and maybe to the impaired parent or teacher), and to offer a different perspective. This new perspective takes place, not only within our emotional perspective, but also within the wiring of our brain. These changes can then be applied to create new meanings within the stuck place of trauma, and offer new meaning which allow the survivor to move into healing.