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Do I Have Trauma? Why Do the Same Things Keep Happening?

wheel photoDoes it feel like the same destructive things keep happening, that you date the same people, leave jobs for the same reason? We learn early how to make decisions, deal with things and even as we mature and get more sophisticated, sometimes old habits get stuck. What about when it’s a general feeling of unease? The first criteria of PTSD is some sort of experience of an event that is in some way life or personhood threatening. Sounds nice and all encompasing, doesn’t it? Something like that probably covers a lot.

Yes and no. There are a number of things that can lead to people not identifying themselves as trauma survivors.

 One is that a lot of people aren’t ready to talk about their trauma experiences, because that’s the nature of traumatic experiences. They’re traumatic to think about, let alone talk about, with a relative stranger. I’ve seen clients fail to get a PTSD diagnosis because they couldn’t bring themselves to tell a staccato, abrupt psychiatrist that they were sexually abused as children.

Another problem is that children assume their experiences are normal. Someone may not think it’s terribly odd to regularly clean up a parent who regularly gets intoxicated to the point of vomiting and passing out. It’s not a one time event; it just doesn’t fit in the box with war veterans and car accidents and tsunamis. And yet this qualifies as an Adverse Childhood Experience, which has been linked to a number of medical conditions and mental health issues.

The criteria previously required that the person felt threatened at the time. I think this is a legacy of PTSD’s roots in veterans. Many children who are abused sexually are targeted because they are neglected. As a result, many of them report liking the attention. This is often a source of great shame and embarrassment, since most people’s idea of a good victim is one who recognizes a predator and then goes into a proper fight or flight response. But complacency at the time does not mean abuse is a child’s fault and it does not mean that the adult they become isn’t worthy of healing.

Think of the patterns in your life. If you see patterns that prevent you from achieving your goals or maintaining positive, stable relationships, it’s totally possible to change those habits. Sometimes it doesn’t take that long, a number of weeks, but other times it can take longer. I’ve seen amazing changes happen with EMDR, but CBT and mindfulness are other tried and true ways to change thoughts and behaviors. The bottom line is that change is possible.

Do I Have Trauma? Why Do the Same Things Keep Happening?

Sara Staggs, LICSW, MPH

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APA Reference
Staggs, S. (2016). Do I Have Trauma? Why Do the Same Things Keep Happening?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from


Last updated: 13 Jul 2016
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