Peter Levine, who wrote Waking the Tiger and In An Unspoken Voice, states that trauma lies in the nervous system, not the event. This is a crucially important distinction, which has major implications for how we define trauma. At its essence, trauma can only ever truly be defined subjectively, there really is no such thing as an “objective” stressor. What will traumatise one person might not traumatise another because there are so many different variables involved.
Defining trauma “objectively” like the PTSD criteria do in DSM-5, negates and minimises many sources and characteristics of trauma. For example, criterion A1 states that: The person was exposed to: death, threatened death, actual or threatened injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, as follows: (One required)
• Direct exposure.
• Witnessing, in person.
• Indirectly, by learning that a close relative or close friend was exposed to trauma. If the event involved actual or threatened death, it must have been violent or accidental.
• Repeated or extreme indirect exposure to aversive details of the event(s), usually in the course of professional duties (e.g. first responders, collecting body parts; professionals repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse). This does not include indirect non-professional exposure through electronic media, television, movies, or pictures.
The fact that there is no specific mention of emotional trauma in A1, and the fact that criterion A2 was deleted from the fifth manual is very significant. A2 stated that “The person's response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror”. What the DSM-5 has essentially done, is state that our emotions aren’t important to trauma. This flies in the face of a huge body of research showing just how important emotions are to mental health. In fact, when you think about it, it is a ludicrous notion and move on their part.
Are there horrific events? Yes, there most certainly are. However, the way we respond to an event is more important than the event itself in terms of defining what is traumatic. In other words, trauma is a subjective, not an objective experience, and depends on many factors such as our age, available resources, our relationship to any perpetrator, feelings of helplessness, being/feeling trapped, fear, horror or betrayal and the length of time it continues. We exclude a large population of traumatised people by officially defining trauma in the way we do.
From all of this we can deduce that reimprinting the event or memory is not necessary, as it is not the source of our trauma. Changing the way we feel about the event will automatically change how we view and perceive the event. Changing how we feel will also change any conclusions that we came to about ourselves, others and life as a result of any events.
The severity of traumatic events cannot be measured on any dimension; simplistic efforts to quantify trauma ultimately lead to meaningless comparisons of horror (...) the salient characteristic of the traumatic event is its power to inspire helplessness and terror ~ Judith Herman
Herman, J. (1992, p. 24). Trauma and Recovery, Basic Books, New York.