(THE BOOK) Chapter 15: Trauma

Another good way to create codependency is to traumatize someone.

Trauma (“injured” in Greek) means any shock to mind or body which a person experiences as overwhelming, terrifying and helpless-making.  All traumatic events – whether they occur in a moment (like an assault or a car accident) or extend over time (like war, sexual abuse or chronic illness) — “overwhelm the ordinary systems of care that give people a sense of control, connection and meaning.”*

In other words, central to all trauma is loss of control.

So it is inevitable that all trauma survivors set out in pursuit of the control that they lost.

Much of this is unconscious and involuntary.  The symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, for example — called re-experiencing, avoidance and hyperarousal — can all be understood as the mind/body’s desperate attempts to prevent recurrence of the trauma and regain the sense of control that was lost.

Thus the combat veteran hearing a car backfire flashes back to the experience of bombardment and automatically seeks cover; the car crash survivor feels compelled to go miles out of her way rather than drive by the scene of an accident; and the rape victim meeting a man who resembles her assailant reacts with rage, terror or both.

What all these survivors have in common is a hypersensitivity to their external environment, which feels like the source of both danger and relief.  Preoccupied with people, places and things they experience as threatening, some spend their lives seeking safety by trying to manage their exposure to those externals.

Most of us already understand this, if only on an intuitive level.

But what many people don’t understand is how common – even unavoidable — traumatization is.

“Common occurences can produce traumatic aftereffects that are just as debilitating as those experienced by veterans of combat or survivors of childhood abuse,” writes psychologist Peter Levine.  Such occurences include

fetal (intrauterine) trauma, birth trauma, loss of a parent of close family member, illness, high fever, accidental poisoning, physical injuries (like falls and other accidents), all forms of abuse, abandonment, neglect, witnessing violence, natural disasters (like fires or floods), certain medical and dental procedures, surgery (particularly tonsillectomies with ether), anesthesia, and prolonged immobilization (like the casting or splinting of broken bones).**

As a therapist who’s treated his share of traumatized clients, I’d add: teasing, bullying, public humiliation, academic failure, social awkwardness, sexual embarrassment, getting fired, being the victim of bias, and having an unfaithful spouse.

I’ll say more later about the connection between trauma, compulsive controlling, and recovery from both.  Here it’s enough to note that

(a) far more emotional problems are rooted in unresolved trauma than most of us imagine,


(b) anyone trying to understand their own compulsive controlling should consider trauma as a possible explanation.



*Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and recovery (Basic Books, 1992).
**Peter A. Levine, Waking the tiger: Healing trauma (North Atlantic Books, 1997).










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