Most people have seen a version of the movie depicting Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. In the story, Scrooge’s long dead partner, Marley, appears dragging many chains behind him representing the weight of his past and makes the statement that Scrooge has forged many more than Marley has. I believe this is a good description of how trauma builds up during a lifetime feels to a client.
At first people do not even notice that they are dragging the past with them. In fact, the trauma may not effect them as a trauma at all. The first time someone speaks harshly to them, they may react by being confused, but then just let it go. If people continue to berate them and maybe even get physical about it, that behavior on the part of other people becomes a chronic trauma for them. Their brain can no longer process it (see post on how the brain processes trauma). So they begin to forge more chains, adding to this trauma every time a similar behavior comes their way, even if that behavior is very mild, like a disapproving look. Their brain can no longer process this negative behavior toward them, so it acts like a trigger that sets off the past traumas that resonate with this recent one.
A simple perceived disapproving look from a stranger may result in them feeling bad about themselves. It might even trigger a bout of depression. Most people do not even notice that they have connected to one of their trauma chains. They just know they feel bad.
I have described only one possible chain of trauma. People have multiple trauma chains and after years of living, these chains start to be drag them down. The chains sap their strength – emotionally and physically. It takes more of their allotted daily energy to live in the past, carrying the chains around. People have less energy available to use in the present. It effects their physical health (more on that in an upcoming post). One may develop symptoms of mental health diagnoses and feel tired all the time. Unless people start to let go of these chains by reprocessing their trauma, they will continue to have less energy to live their lives in the present moment.