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What Is Trauma And What Do I Do With It?

A season of healing from trauma

The author of today’s blog is Charles Roberts, owner and counselor at Heartwood Counseling and Consulting, LLC. There are a lot of letters behind Charles’ name on his email signature; are you ready for them? They include: M.S.Ed, LPCC-S, LPC, NCC, DARTT, CSAT, and CET1. We hope you’ll look them all up, but in short, Charles is a highly certified and specialized clinical counselor, and his personal and professional expertise on trauma is evident in this article. We are sure it will inform, challenge, and comfort you.


As a trauma therapist, not a day goes by that I don’t hear things like, “I don’t have any trauma. I had a great childhood.” I even have clients who believe that only military service members or first responders can have PTSD. In the field of trauma therapy, we have experienced so many shifts in our understanding of trauma, and that understanding continues to evolve as we synthesize new learning from the fields of Interpersonal Neurobiology, attachment, addiction and trauma. Thankfully, we are moving away from the shame-filled question of “What’s wrong with you?” We are moving toward the more trauma-informed question, “What happened to you?

In my lived experience as a trauma survivor as well as my work, I find the diagnostic criteria for PTSD in our diagnostic manual to be quite limiting. So, I will offer a few definitions that I find helpful in conceptualizing trauma.

First, the literal meaning of the Latin word for trauma is wound. Father Richard Rohr, in his daily meditation from 7/31/22, entitled, “From Innocence: Leaving the Garden” writes, “The word ‘innocent’ from its Latin root means ‘not wounded’.” That’s how we all start life. We’re all innocent. It doesn’t have anything to do with morally right or wrong. It has to do with not yet being wounded. We start unwounded.” This innocent or unwounded state begins to change from day one. Wounds amass through abuse, neglect, loss, and mis-attunement. Pia Mellody proposes a provocative definition of abuse: “Abuse is anything less than nurturing.” (Take a deep breath after that one!)

So, by this point, you might be thinking, “By these definitions, there is nobody who hasn’t experienced trauma!” In a way, I believe you are correct. However, many have posited that the ongoing effects of trauma can be mitigated by the protective, nurturing or affirming presence of a family member, teacher, coach or Sunday school teacher. Bonnie Badenoch, in her excellent book, The Heart of Trauma, states, “Trauma is relational, not primarily from the nature of events, but from who is with us before, during and after the overwhelming happening (or non-happening in the case of neglect).” In other words, it is nonjudgmental, empathic presence that shields us from the full impact of wounding. As we enter recovery and counseling, this type of attuned presence is precisely what provides for the most profound healing experiences. Bonnie continues, “We all ache to be heard and held in the reality of our experience without judgment or any impulse toward fixing.”

And this, my friends, is the greatest news of all! Before we get overwhelmed at the immense reality of our wounded humanity, let’s consider that we, as a community, have all that we need to mobilize in the healing of our communities with all of our individual and collective trauma. Whether you are a therapist, a nonprofit leader, a pastor, a teacher, or a barista, let’s cultivate our God-given ability to be fully present, offering curious compassion and “no impulse toward fixing” to those around us. As God brings healing to us through His Emmanuel-presence, being with us. Let us offer this kind of loving presence to every person we meet. Every human encounter is an encounter with trauma.

Finally, I want to leave you with some food for thought about trauma comparison. I reject the language of Big ’T’ and little ’t’ traumas. I don’t believe there is any good served in minimizing or maximizing your stories or someone else’s through comparison. Trauma experiences are subjective. One person may experience something as a trauma that I might not consider trauma for me. When we rank someone’s trauma or our own through comparison, we fall out of attuned presence with that person, and we create space for shame. If someone is vulnerable enough to share their woundedness with you, believe them and be with them. This is where true healing begins.


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