What is trauma?

I’m currently reading a remarkable book by the physician Gabor Maté. In the Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing In A Toxic Culture he argues that trauma is ubiquitous within contemporary society; a reality which is obscured by the tendency to exceptionalize trauma as a categorical affliction of a subset of poor souls in contrast to the wider swathes of normal people who lack these wounds. This is how he defines trauma:

Raw wound or scar, unresolved trauma is a constriction of the self, both physical and psychological. It constrains our inborn capacities and generates an enduring distortion of our view of the world and of other people. Trauma, until we work it through, keeps us stuck in the past, robbing us of the present moment’s riches, limiting who we can be. By impelling us to suppress hurt and unwanted parts of the psyche, it fragments the self. Until seen and acknowledged, it is also a barrier to growth. In many cases, as in mine, it blights a person’s sense of worth, poisons relationships, and undermines appreciation for life itself. Early in childhood it may even interfere with healthy brain development. And, as we will witness, trauma is an antecedent and a contributor to illness of all kinds throughout the lifespan.

Pg 31

He argues that trauma limits us because it diminishes our capacities. It leaves us psychically and/or physically more limited in ways that are persistence. It disconnects us from our bodies, fragmenting our relation to ourselves, as coping strategies which were situationally helpful harden into fixed mechanisms we carry with us into situations where they are maladaptive.

2 responses to “What is trauma?”

  1. Glad you like his work. I am biased as a fan of Gabor’s for several years now. I use his work teaching social work students because his take on what impacts the client groups SW work with hold a lot of insight to help hepers of people suffering from our toxic culture. His talks on you tube are great, and one I use a lot is less than 3 mins. He is interviewed by ex-addict (and now therapist to the rich) Tommy Rosen. In less than 3 mins there is insight into why we become addicted and how we can begin to aid recovery… amazing bloke!

  2. Oh that’s interesting to know. I only stumbled across him via YouTube! I’ll definitely be reading more and watching the videos.

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