Looking at the World Through the Lens of Trauma

Trauma lenses allow us to understand how past experiences that have damaged us affect our present. Their role is particularly important, since recognizing the role they play is the first part of the trauma healing process.
Looking at the World Through the Lens of Trauma
Angela C. Tobias

Written and verified by the psychologist Angela C. Tobias.

Last update: 18 December, 2022

We look at the world through the lens of trauma as a result of past events that exceeded all our personal limits. However, what events might constitute trauma? How does it unconsciously manifest itself in our mental health?

In this article, we’ll try and bring you closer to the concept of trauma and how it can manifest itself and influence your life, despite the fact that the event has disappeared in time. The first part of the trauma healing process begins with awareness.

Woman looking down sad
Looking at the world through the lens of trauma distorts reality because we live through our wounds derived from the trauma.

Trauma means suffering

Often, when we talk or think about trauma, we imagine events with extremely sensitive content or situations of exposure to violence, in any of its forms. While these events are potentially traumatic, they’re not always necessary for trauma to occur.

Trauma consists of events that have had a tremendous impact on us in the past and are now interfering with our lives, even though any real threats associated with them have disappeared. They’re personal experiences that exceeded our personal resources and handling of the issue at the time , thus damaging our mental health.

However, not everyone who experiences a highly stressful event, such as abuse or a natural disaster, will develop trauma. Nor will the nature of the event itself determine whether it’s sufficient for trauma to occur. In fact, it’s far more accurate to understand the traumatic potential of a certain event if we contextualize it through the experiences of the individual and the account they’ve given of them.

Looking through emotional wounds

Looking through the lens of trauma distorts reality and doesn’t allow us to see the ‘here and now’. In effect, trauma causes an atrocious fear that the situations of the past that harmed us will happen again. Our bodies create these lenses as defense mechanisms to protect us from the kinds of reality that we interpret as threatening and dangerous.

If you’ve suffered a highly traumatic relationship -for example, of abuse – the kind in which you felt you couldn’t save yourself, you may have developed learned helplessness. In these kinds of cases, your trauma lenses mean that any possible partner who comes along is viewed by you with suspicion and makes your alarm bells ring. In fact, you project elements of your past onto your new reality.

Your emotional wounds damage you, causing you to relive experiences that overwhelm you. They don’t allow you to accept new opportunities that appear in your life. Your body goes into hibernation, but your pain remains.

When patients suffering from trauma arrive for a consultation, they can often feel overwhelmed and confused about what’s happening. They might not even relate their discomfort to the traumatic event in question. Their mind is protecting them and hiding the trauma in their unconscious until they feel ready to integrate it.

Trauma has millions of faces and ways of manifesting itself. Here are some of the most common in patients who attend therapy.

  • Various sleep disorders. Insomnia, excessive sleep, and habitual nightmares. When we sleep, it’s one of the few times when our conscious minds rest and we’re left at the mercy of our unconscious. However, our unconscious remembers traumas and they may manifest in nightmares or difficulty falling asleep.
  • Diverse anxious symptomatology. Trauma essentially consists of fear and anxiety. Therefore, it’s common for people with this type of discomfort to develop symptoms such as nervousness, irritability, intense fear, palpitations, somatization, etc.
  • Various feelings, such as shame and guilt. Certain traumatic events often cause people to blame themselves for what happened. Moreover, they may not want it to come to light because they feel immensely ashamed. These sensations can make trauma more chronic, as sufferers are unable to ask for help.
Man doing therapy
EMDR is one of the most effective therapies for trauma.

Trauma heals even when there’s a scar

The nature of trauma condemns the sufferer to post-traumatic stress. The meanings and experiences of trauma are unique. Indeed, frequently, only the sufferer themselves knows what they are. It’s only through deep respect and empathy that they can begin the healing process.

Trauma lenses themselves aren’t the enemy. They’re a natural and protective mechanism of the mind. However, problems appear when we wear these lenses for a long time, completely distorting our perception of reality.

Often, we’re unaware that the trauma is there since it has different faces. This is due to an unconscious economy of resources, which only allows us to remember trauma when it feels that we’re ready. It’s like an adrenaline rush comprised of warriors, who don’t even notice their wounds until after the battle is over.

Trauma heals with care, respect, attention, and above all, empathy. In fact, the wound was probably caused by the absence of empathy in others. Empathy is one of the most effective methods of healing and is used in humanistic therapies and EMDR.  Emotional trauma, like any wound, always leaves a scar. It reminds us not only of what happened but how strong we were and how we survived.

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  • Leeds, A. M. (2009). Resources in EMDR and other trauma-focused psychotherapy: A review. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research3(3), 152-160.
  • Shapiro, E. (2009). EMDR treatment of recent trauma. Journal of EMDR Practice and Research3(3), 141-151.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.