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Trauma Influences: A Root Cause of Addiction

By April 18, 2022April 19th, 2022Recovery

Traumatic events push a person into hyper-awareness, causing them to become highly attuned to any further threat. They make you feel uncomfortable which can lead you to try to escape the feeling by numbing out. Let’s discuss not only finding ways to calm yourself down but why identifying what it was that happened in your childhood or past life experience that causes you to spiral into such high anxiety and fragile state in an autonomous way.

We go through the following points:

What is Trauma?

Trauma is unexpected and can occur at any age or stage of development. It freezes your body in a state of fear which disrupts the natural equilibrium of the body. It comes in many different forms, a few being anxiety, avoidance, rage, guilt, and nightmares. Trauma has components of both subjective and objective experiences (Weinburg, 2016).

In the National Survey of Adolescents, teens who had experienced physical or sexual abuse/assault were three times more likely to report past or current substance abuse than those without a history of trauma. (Kilpatrick DG, Saunders BE, Smith DW. 2003). In surveys of adolescents receiving treatment for substance abuse, more than 70% of patients had a history of trauma exposure. (Deykin EY, Buka SL. 1997).

Minimizing Trauma

Could you be minimizing your trauma?  This question stumped me for years. Growing up, I assumed trauma was only ever objective. The obvious stuff. The life-threatening situations we all fear, those traumatic events we see in films, were what I labeled as trauma. But more often than not trauma is subjective and often minimized in our society. Therefore, the individual’s reaction to their trauma is also subjective and often minimized internally.

We are all very familiar with the phrase “it’s no big deal”. It is a common response in our culture to shoving them under the rug to move on. Many times though, the case is that it is a big deal to that individual person due to the subjectivity to the trauma.

Objective Trauma

Objective traumatic experiences include the actual events of the trauma and demographic characteristics. Elements of these experiences would be tangible or factual (SAMHSA, 2016). Objective trauma seems obvious to others who didn’t experience it.

Subjective Trauma

Subjective experiences are characterized as internal processing, such as perceptions of traumatic experiences and meanings assigned to them (SAMHSA, 2016). What you personally saw and how you felt through your own perspective.

Elements of these would include proximity to the trauma, determining the level of threat, the Big Five personality traits (conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, extraversion, and neuroticism), and dissociative symptoms (SAMHSA, 2016). Symptoms that you experience without the commonality of other experiencers.

Belief in One’s Own Experience

The subjective experiences have an impact more difficult to study. In line with Albert Ellis’  rational emotive behavior therapy, it isn’t the event itself that determines whether something is traumatic, but is the individual’s experience of that event. REBT explains a person is not affected by their immediate environment, they are affected by their belief or interpretation of what happened.

Only 37% of objectively traumatic events were experienced as subjectively traumatic; in contrast, 73% of subjectively traumatic events met the objectively traumatic criterion (Boals, 2018). This subjective trauma factor is so important to understand as we move through the self-healing journey. With 73% of subjective trauma meeting the same criterion as objective trauma, an individualized approach to healing is even more vital.

With subjective experiences, people often feel alone. As if no one else understands them and with subjective trauma in play, this feeling and ideation get even stronger.

Trauma and Addiction

This 10-minute crash course video on Trauma and Addiction is really helpful for any stage of change you are currently in. It is very informative on how mental illness and addiction often go hand-in-hand.

Need for Individualized Approach

Research indirectly suggests we as a society should pay attention to the labels given to those struggling with mental illness and addiction (Boals, 2018). More often than not— A person’s trauma stems from a subjective experience, so there is less tangible evidence to support or find a cure-all for everyone since no one experience is alike.

It is never good when a traumatized individual starts to compare their situation to another’s experience without any validation. People then begin to minimize their feelings of the situation, the trauma can get distorted, lead to confusion, become mentally blocked out, and even forgotten.

When compared to non-traumatic events, both objective and subjective events were independently associated with higher levels of depression, perceived stress, PTSD symptoms, and quality of life (Boals A, 2018).

Need for Validation

Validation plays a huge role in identifying and processing trauma. Validation can come from taking an assessment (like the ACE test for childhood adversity), by participating in trauma-informed treatment or support from self-help groups. Since a person is affected by their own interpretation or belief of what happened, that interpretation must be validated by another person in order to feel confident in one’s own belief. Especially when they are feeling vulnerable and/or processing a traumatic event.

If there isn’t validation in a person’s subjective experience, this can lead to unaddressed traumatic responses, withheld emotions, a deep sense of shame, and more. Confiding in another person is so important. But ensuring confidentiality in the right person, such as a trauma-informed therapist, is a make-or-break component in our process of healing and discovering past traumas.

Need for Processing

If trauma isn’t acknowledged and processed, an individual may experience traumatic responses and reactions to future experiences. Often tricking themselves that they have moved on, in reality, the trauma is only being minimized. Eventually, the body and mind let us know there is something we need to address. When traumatic symptoms arise during processing, dialectical behavior therapy is a good way of practicing techniques of emotional regulation.

Once the trauma is identified and accepted by the experiencer, we address the experience by processing it through emotions. If the trauma has not been resolved, the body and mind of an individual are still holding the experience within. Emotions must be processed correctly, otherwise, the traumatic reactions can lash out in numerous ways.

Signs You May Be Holding Unresolved Trauma

  • You feel ashamed, guilty, or unforgiving
  • Intrusive thoughts or flashbacks happen
  • Emotions and stress overwhelm you easily
  • Disassociating is common
  • You overreact or are overly sensitive in situations

Research shows common traumatic responses can be the following (SAMHSA, 2016):


  • Emotional deregulation
  • Numbing out


  • Somatization (physical symptoms of emotional distress)
  • Biology of trauma living in in the body
  • Hyperarousal and sleep disturbances


  • Misinterpretations and cognitive errors
  • Excessive or inappropriate guilt
  • Idealization
  • Trauma-induced hallucinations or delusions
  • Intrusive thoughts and memories

Begin Healing Trauma

In order to heal from your trauma, you typically move through three stages on your path of recovery. American psychiatrist Judith Herman lays out these three phases of trauma in her book Trauma and Recovery. The stages are:

  • Safety & Stabilization: Having the understanding that you are safe can allow room for healing. Traumatic events, leave people feeling unsafe and unable to process depending on the level of severity.
  • Remembrance and Mourning: Acknowledgment of the event. Honoring your past self and the emotions this brings up. Therapy is the best way to walk a person through this healing process of re-visiting and re-defining the traumatic event.
  • Reconnection and Integration: Redefining who you are as a person now and reclaiming your personal power today.

An important part of healing is to repair this sense of separateness within ourselves and from others. This is where creating a routine that works for you and maintaining emotional and spiritual wellness is key to healing. Through emotional wellness, we can strengthen our regulation to process the trauma.

Everyday Holistic Ways to Heal Trauma

If you feel you may have unresolved trauma, the best thing to do is seek professional help through therapy or treatment. Speaking to a professional therapist to process the experience will be the first step you should take.

As you get that process going, two immediate ways to cope with unresolved trauma in a positive way would be creating a growth mindset and a safe space to allow processing when triggers arise.

A great way to see results is to take consistent, manageable-sized steps toward your healing while maintaining a positive outlook on the progression. Small wins are the way to go. A growth mindset is a must when we are dealing with trauma.

Here are a few you could implement right away:

    • Validating the experience and your feelings
    • Deep breathing and daily mediation
    • Focusing positively on the progress of your goals
    • Laughing and not taking anything too seriously
    • Thinking and speaking positively

Different well-known forms of trauma therapy can include:

Without addressing and processing the trauma, our health and happiness will continue being compromised by the previous exposure to trauma, stress, emotional pain, abuse, and violence.  Though with treatment and support, we are able to persevere through processing and create a positive psychological change from the struggle. This is referred to as post-traumatic growth.


Trauma can be minimized but only for so long until emotions can eventually rupture like a volcano. Healing takes awareness and willingness to work through these deep-rooted traumas. It also takes a long-term plan and commitment to take action but is worth the time and energy. longer deeper dive video lecture, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s leading experts on developmental trauma over a person’s lifetime.

Ensure you have the right tools, spiritual approach, & techniques for retraining your brain. You have the power to transform your life and habits significantly. Satori is here to set the stage for what is right for you. Join us for our free 5-day course here!










  • Bishop, L. S., Benz, M. B., & Palm Reed, K. M. (2017). The impact of trauma experiences on posttraumatic stress disorder and substance use disorder symptom severity in a treatment-seeking sample. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 48(6), 490–498.
  • Boals, A. (2018). Trauma in the eye of the beholder: Objective and subjective definitions of trauma. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 28(1), 77–89.
  • Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (US). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services. Rockville (MD): Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (US); 2014. (Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 57.) Chapter 2, Trauma Awareness. Available from:
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  • Kilpatrick DG, Saunders BE, Smith DW. 2003. Youth Victimization: Prevalence and Implications [Electronic]. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Program, National Institute of Justice
  • Michael Weinberg & Sharon Gil (2016) Trauma as an objective or subjective experience: The association between types of traumatic events, personality traits, subjective experience of the event, and posttraumatic symptoms, Journal of Loss and Trauma, 21:2, 137-146, DOI: 10.1080/15325024.2015.1011986