Trauma: Discovering The Differences Between Explicit and Implicit

Madison Reich on Apr 27, 2022 in Mood and Feelings

Today, we are going to talk about the “T” word: trauma. I want us to start by addressing the posture I’m writing this blog from. Put simply, I hope to write this blog from a posture of humility.

My experiences with trauma are both professional and personal. Given my personal experience with trauma, I cannot claim that this blog — or any other blog — will ever fully encapsulate everything there is to say about trauma. That’s because trauma is complex, unique, shared, individual, and universal. Moreover, the impact of trauma on a person’s internal being is very personal. Therefore, I do not claim this article will tell you all the answers on how to heal your trauma; trauma is messier than that.

I want to offer a perspective on trauma that may seem new or uncomfortable, but I aim to offer it to you with a heart of gentleness and curiosity. There may be much more to explore around your personal experience with trauma, so remember that my doors are open to offer a safe space to help you slowly turn toward that pain in hopes of discovering a few breaths of inner healing.

Why is Explicit Trauma Easier to Identify?

Most people have a universal idea of what a traumatic experience entails:

  • Physcial or sexual abuse
  • Divorce
  • Environmental disaster
  • Car accident
  • Terminal illness

These events undoubtedly impact our emotional systems in a big, loud, and obvious way, which, in turn, can cause a trauma response. Consider these situations (and others like them) forms of explicit trauma.

We find it easier to identify these events as traumatic because our culture defines them as such.

For example, think of a loved one who has gone through one of the events listed above and then imagine what your immediate reaction might be to hearing about what they went through. Maybe you say, “Wow, I couldn’t even imagine living through that” or maybe you directly say, “How traumatic that must have been for you.”

As a result of these events being more easily identifiable as producing a trauma response, we are more likely to seek healing from these experiences (i.e., therapy, psychiatry, faith, reiki, or other types of inner healing).

Allowing Room for Other Type of Trauma

We are now going to shift focus from explicit trauma to implicit trauma. This is not to negate the deep pain explicit trauma brings to an individual but to offer a space for those silent and hidden histories of implicit trauma. Both exist.

Implicit Trauma: “Nothing that bad ever happened to me.”

Trauma can be defined as a response to any event that creates psychological and/or emotional distress. The American Psychological Association (APA) put it this way:

“[Trauma is] any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other disruptive feelings intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, behavior, and other aspects of functioning.”

Rewind. Hold up. Did they just say ANY disturbing experience? Yes! The actual APA is giving us permission to claim we can have a trauma response to any experience. One more time for those scrolling through quickly while they wait in line for their coffee: THEY SAID ANY EXPERIENCE. So no, you do not need to have an explicit, overt, culturally acceptable, screaming-in-your-face moment from your childhood to have experienced or currently experience a trauma response.

Implicit events that may have caused you to suffer the excruciating pain, loneliness, fear, and helplessness of trauma:

  • Feeling unheard or unseen
  • People talking over you or dismissing your thoughts
  • Denial of your reality
  • “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “I never said that”
  • Rejection of parts of yourself
  • “Stop being so sensitive”
  • Chaotic and inconsistent environment
  • "I love you no matter what..." (Next hour or day) "You are such a disappointment.”
  • Parentification
  • “I don’t know what I would do without you. You are what keeps me going.” — Caregiver

These are some examples of situations my clients (real people) have endured. When they come into my office and I use the “T” word with them, they often immediately dismiss the idea: “I have no trauma, nothing that bad ever happened to me. My childhood was fine.”

When we dig deeper, we start to see our fear in naming our trauma. For many of us, the fear is centered around our implicit trauma of being dismissed, it not being considered "real trauma.” In reality, our implicit trauma is more silent and covert. We may think it is “wrong,” “bad,” or even “crazy” to claim we have experienced trauma, but that is exactly the impulse it is so important for us to resist.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Is Your Internal World Showing Signs of Implicit Trauma?

I invite you to check in with your internal world. Is there a looming sense of dread, helplessness, fear, or confusion? Has it felt infuriating to not have a specific event to validate the existence of these feelings? You may be experiencing the real impact of trauma. Implicit trauma.

Let us learn together how to give ourselves unconditional permission to validate our emotional, psychological, and physical responses to our stories. The more permission we give ourselves, the more room we provide our wounded parts to heal.

Madison Reich is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in Newport Beach, CA.

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