That’s the basis of trauma, which can be one event or a series of events that’s experienced by an individual, someone he or she knows, or even someone he or she does not know directly.
When the word “trauma” comes up, many people associate it with soldiers returning from combat, childhood abuse, or sexual assault. Those are very real, common, and resounding examples.
Trauma is even more broad in nature, however. It comes in many forms, from receiving a medical diagnosis to witnessing a car accident to losing someone we love or experiencing a natural disaster.
Trauma is sometimes accompanied by big feelings such as guilt, confusion, hopelessness, irritability, fear, and difficulty concentrating. It can also contribute to physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive issues, fatigue, and trouble sleeping. Over time, chronic stress from trauma can even lead to the development or worsening of health conditions.
To explore what trauma means for our overall health and how working through trauma can help us reach our health goals, we spoke with trauma-informed mental health practitioner, Cory George, on the Life Without Limits podcast.
He discussed how we can begin to work through painful events and the unhelpful day-to-day decisions (e.g. eating to the point of discomfort, drinking too much alcohol, etc.) we might lean on to cope with trauma.
“When addressing trauma, one key is to be kind toward yourself. Healing from trauma does not happen overnight. It’s a process,” George said. “The idea is to work through trauma in a way that slightly pushes you, but also makes sure you’re safe. A lot of this involves finding the words to our feelings. And, sometimes it takes working with a therapist to find these words. Ultimately, working through trauma is about taking that first step and saying, ‘I want life to be a little different than what it is right now.’”
You can learn more about Cory George and his work by visiting CoreyGeorge.com and @corygeorgecares on Instagram.
Host: This is Life Without Limits, the One Drop Podcast that gives you the tools, inspiration and support to challenge your limits. We talk with experts across all areas of health to open up more possibilities for you. Lean on us, as you step outside your comfort zone, to work your way toward better overall health and a Life Without Limits.
Kim Constantinesco: Welcome to Life Without Limits, the One Drop Podcast that brings in experts to help you reach your health goals. I’m your host Kim Constantinesco, and on today’s show we have Cory George, who is a mental health practitioner with a master’s degree in Human Services Counselling. And he has a focus in crisis response and trauma. He is also a certified clinical trauma specialist and a certified anger management specialist who has helped many people face their trauma and pain with courage and grace. Cory is also an award winning television host, product, author and mental health advocate. Cory, thanks for joining us on the program.
Cory George: Thank you so much for having me.
Kim Constantinesco: So first off, tell us a little about how and why you took this career path to being in a helping profession.
Cory George: Well, I will say that I recently just abandoned a 20 plus year IT engineering career to follow my heart. Although I’ve been in mental health as an advocate and then became a life coach several years ago, but what sparked me was my own recovery from childhood trauma. I was a victim of childhood rape spanning about six or seven years of my early childhood, abandonment, shuffling around and moving around a lot. Was also a (inaudible) whom I loved early, that became addicted to crack cocaine and seeing all of that.
It had a profound effect on how I saw myself in the world and in turn, how I fashioned my own adult relationships. And it got to the point where I realized I was the common part of every issue that I had. And so when I started to heal, understood that I had the power then to use that story in the way that I chose. And that’s one of the things that I love to teach my clients is, once you own that story, it is yours to use in a way that it’s not used against you. Others will use your story against you, but you have the power to use that story not just to galvanize yourself, but if you choose to, to also try and to help others as well.
Kim Constantinesco: That’s such an important point, Cory, and I’m really glad you brought that up. So you’re a trauma informed therapist, and you help people navigate feelings, thoughts and behaviors around painful events that may keep us from getting to where we want to go in our lives. So when we hear the word “trauma” some people think of PTSD or soldiers returning from combat or maybe someone who has experienced a bad car accident. But trauma really comes in many forms and affects both our physical and emotional health. So can you talk a little bit about what trauma is exactly and why we should understand it?
Cory George: Well, everything you said could be classified as a traumatic event. We also have things such as witnessing violent crimes, sexual assault. Social media can also spark people with secondhand forms of PTSD and trauma. But trauma itself is how we respond to a deeply disturbing event. So, for example, you and I can witness the same thing, but it’s the mechanism within each of our minds that says, is this going to be trauma for you, me, both of us or none at all?
So it’s such an individualized aspect. And so to go deeper, if you live in a crime ridden area, would you be surprised when you witness crime? Probably not. But if you happen to visit that area and it’s not something that you’re used to, that can cause trauma for you because this is not a condition that you have prepared yourself for. So again, it’s such an individualistic thing that we have to look at each person, their environment, their background, even how they were raised to find out how and why that event or that set of circumstances caused trauma.
Kim Constantinesco: So how does trauma affect both physical and mental health?
Cory George: Well, I could talk about some of the common responses of trauma. So you have the emotional fluctuation such as sadness, anger, fear, shame, denial. That can lead to nightmares, insomnia. You could have difficulty in relationships because sometimes we try to have other things compensate for the things that we can’t heal from.
And in terms of other physical ailments, sometimes when we have aches and pains in our body, that’s our body saying that it has accepted that as trauma as well. So sometimes it’s a somatic issue. Meaning – that means our body is interpreting our pain from our mind. It could also show up in forms such as nausea and dizziness, changes in appetites, gastrointestinal. And the reason why this happens is because when we experience those flashbacks or those nightmares or that stress, certain parts of our body starts to shut down or close up, and then that causes these pains in certain areas of our body.
Kim Constantinesco: And how does that affect some of the metrics that we track, like in doctor’s offices as it relates to maybe blood pressure, blood glucose, all of those factors?
Cory George: Well, being a trauma informed counselor is very interesting for me, when I’m looking at the patient I’m looking at whole health. I’m looking at how is this affecting you? What did your doctor last say about your stress levels? As you said, the blood sugar levels, your heart rate, your blood pressure. Because I can then inform the client that says, if we reduce this stress or if we reduce your symptoms, perhaps we can see some of those other things go away. And so in cases of people who have dealt with trauma, it is highly connected that what they’re feeling in their body can also be linked to what they’re feeling in their mind as well too.
Kim Constantinesco: So it seems like, as uncomfortable as it might be, we really need to sort of tune into the trauma that we have experiences in our lives and analyze how it might be affecting us today, because it could really change our health for the better. So first of all, how can someone tell if they’re being affected by a past trauma?
Cory George: Well, the first thing I would always say is, how do you view yourself against the world? We wake up and we assign who we are in the world. Meaning before I go outside, how do I feel about me in the world? Do I feel like I measure up? Do I feel scared about facing the world? Am I paranoid about the world? Am I overly anxious? Am I paralyzed? That’s the first thing because we have to look at how are we in the world? Are we often triggered? What things excites us in a negative way?
And we can also look at the way that we involve ourselves in relationships and why we choose those relationships as well. Because it’s well understood that people who have experienced trauma, may find themselves making choices in relationships that sometimes emulate the trauma because deep down inside they’ve gotten used to how they respond to that. So it’s a welcomed response. So as sad as it sounds, if I’ve been abused and the only way I know to cope is to deal with the abuse, then nine times out of ten until I heal, I’m going to be consciously seeking what I’m used to dealing with. And so that’s why handling trauma is so important because then it helps you to recognize that you don’t deserve that. Although you’ve been through it, you deserve better.
Kim Constantinesco: Right, and it can be so hard to shed trauma because of what you just described, that feeling of familiarity. And whatever is familiar in our lives, good or bad, can help us feel comfortable.
Cory George: And it’s very true because there are clients that don’t even know that what they’ve experienced is trauma because again, as you mentioned at the top of the show, when we think of PTSD first of all, what do we normally think about? We think about service men. That’s how it started. But then now when we look at it on a medical basis, PTSD can be a result of any type of trauma. So once we build in the psycho education, which is my job is to say, hey, have you ever thought that what you experienced during your childhood or even adulthood can be classified as trauma? And also to go deeper, have you been told or diagnosed with some form of post-traumatic stress disorder?
And sometimes because, again, as I mentioned earlier, if you were raised in area that was crime ridden, you may have PTSD but you don’t know it because you’ve coped. And as children we can only cope because we can’t normally take ourselves out of the situation. So we cope by normalizing. And once you normalize it, it becomes standard in your life. So that’s why for some people it is highly difficult for them to distinguish between trauma and just a regular way of life.
Kim Constantinesco: That makes a lot of sense. And I want to talk a little bit about coping styles. You just mentioned that some people cope, they kind of normalize what their experience has been. But research says one of the most common coping mechanisms for trauma is avoidance. So people don’t want to think about the event or experience. They don’t want to talk about it or visit the place where it took place. So what are your thoughts on avoidance as a copying mechanism?
Cory George: Well, I completely understand avoidance because initially who wants to be purposefully evoked, right? So in terms of PTSD, that’s normally when you’re diagnosed at least 30 days after something happens, because in the first 30 days it’s expected for you to have some type of stress disorder after a major incident. That’s expected. So we don’t classify it as PTSD until after that month passes and you have several weeks of something’s happening.
But avoidance is typical. But then it comes to the point where we avoid what we’re supposed to feel because really avoidance is just saying, I don’t want to walk through that pain. And the worst part about avoidance is it can lead to substance use disorders. It can lead to things that makes the process much longer. And avoidance is really just the opposite of healing, really. Because healing means you have to walk through it, and you have to let your body feel it. And also you have to assign some truth to it. Because sometimes when we avoid, we are also walking around with these ideas of our trauma that may not necessarily serve us well.
So as we’re avoiding we’re also avoiding to tell ourselves the actual facts. And not the truth, because I’ve learned that the truth is not always fact. But the actual facts of the event so we can help you to process those feelings, move forward. And that doesn’t mean that your slate is clean. That just means that you have the tools to better understand who you are and how you deal with all of those triggers.
Kim Constantinesco: And I’d like to talk a little bit more about avoidance as a coping mechanism when it comes to some of our health choices or health behaviors. So you mentioned substance abuse, maybe someone is using alcohol or some form of drug to escape from their pain. But that also can extend into eating, right? So maybe using comfort food, right, that term “comfort food” is sort of meant to bring some state of calm to your body. It triggers all kinds of neurotransmitters, the feel goods. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Cory George: I can because it’s such a dual sword. Because yes, it does help the body to release the pleasure zones. But unfortunately what happens for some people, then if you gain weight, guess what happens? You have lower self-esteem now. So now you’ve tied your physical appearance to your stress. And now it goes from being a comfort to now a hazard. So now you’ve piled on health issues as well. And that’s anything that blocks you from avoidance, it can only really get worse.
And so I always encourage people to find the source of why they may be drinking, why they may be taking drugs, why they may be overeating.
Because we live in a world that’s judgmental, right. So we think that if someone is large and they’re eating a lot, we think that they’re just being unhealthy. But have you thought about the psychosis behind what they’re doing? And then when we get down to the psychosis, then more than likely we’ll discover what the culprit is, and that’s what my job is. My job is to help people to understand that there are different ways to deal with that. Because now we not only have to deal with the stress of the trauma, we also have to deal with the stress of the overeating or the stress of the disorder. Because now it’s a whole new disorder now.
Kim Constantinesco: Right, there can be so many different layers to trauma. So how do you suggest people start resolving trauma in their own lives and peel back those layers in order to heal?
Cory George: So my first recommendation is to start telling yourself the truth as much as you can manage. Because some of us can heal on our own. There are people that have resilience that don’t need a service like mine. There are people that can read a book that can get the help they need, or they can use their social networking in order to get that support.
And so when you find that those things don’t work for you, it costs nothing for you to invest in a phone call to find out if you need to take a next step. But to also be kind towards yourself because you did not do this to yourself. And it’s not going to happen overnight. Someone like myself is trained to hold space with you in a comfortable way. So as we’re walking through this, our goal is to make sure that you’re safe. Our goal is to make sure that you can work with this in a way that slightly pushes you, but also makes sure that you’re safe. And also it gives you a voice. You can tell me, hey, this is uncomfortable. I can help you find the words to these feelings that you didn’t even know. So it really is about taking that first step and saying, I want life to be at least a little different than what it is right now.
Kim Constantinesco: And what about dealing with trauma from long ago, such as during childhood, versus working through a more recent or current traumatic experience? What I’m asking here is how does the length of time you’ve been exposed to trauma and its after effects, how does that influence your ability to heal from it?
Cory George: I look at it as a whole person thing. I ask you, well, how has this been affecting your life? I also ask how long has this been happening? Because I have a picture of the length of time, but then I look at the person because there are people that are so resilient that it may take a few sessions for them to get it and then they move on. But then there are some people that are so deeply affected, that it takes a while.
And I may have to also enlist some other resources in their communities to figure out, how can we best support this person between the sessions?
So it really does vary. There are people that have dealt with childhood trauma that once they’re ready, they are so committed, they’re in it. Tell me what I need to do. Tell me the homework. I’m on it. Then there are some people, for example, in my service because it’s court ordered or it’s mandated, you may not even understand that there’s something wrong. So then my work is to help you to find out, why do you think that you’ve been assigned here? What do you feel that you can possibly change to improve where you are right now? And so again, it’s such a personal thing, that as a trauma informed counselor, one question I always ask is, what happened to you, not what’s wrong?
Kim Constantinesco: What’s the top reason or two for why people could benefit from doing trauma informed work? I know part of your work is to help people discover their why.
Cory George: What I like to give people is the full color back to their life. I tell people, I would like to see you dream in full color. I always ask this question of my clients at some point is, what is your wildest dream? What is the most ridiculous thing that you thought – and you only call it ridiculous because you didn’t think that you were worthy of it or that you could achieve it. And that’s the thing that trauma is blocking you from feeling.
And I was the same way. I didn’t know that I was going to be a trauma informed counselor. I didn’t know that I was going to be on TV. I don’t even like my voice half the time. But now it’s become my wildest dream because I can see myself in those spaces. So I like to give people their life back and ask them, okay well, now that you’re starting the healing process, what has changed? Are you looking at yourself in a different way? Are you looking at the choices that you choose certain folks in your life now? Are you going after that big job that you only fantasized about but you held yourself back from? So that’s what I hope that people understand, is that trauma is a disguise that shows up in the room before you do.
Kim Constantinesco: And Cory, can you maybe give us an example of someone who has attended to their trauma, worked on it and seen massive changes in their life because they’ve approached it in a very compassionate way?
Cory George: Yes, I can talk to a recent case actually. I was counselling a young man who had dealt with two bouts of sexual trauma. One from a male and one from a female. And he had such a sense of disgust, because being a heterosexual male, being assaulted by another male, of course as a kid you process that as something different. Being in church you’re told that if you’re gay you’re going to hell. Well, his cognition was, not that I was raped, but I’m going to hell.
So therefore if I’m going to hell I’m worthless. So all of his life events were a precursor to him being worthless. And recently he told me, he was, like, “Thank you, because now I understand that I’m not at fault. That something happened to me as a child and it was not my responsibility to keep myself safe.” And just seeing him on social media now, seeing his faith is changing into, he’s happier now. He’s advocating. He’s telling other people about the lessons he’s learned. So that’s a clear cut case for me that brings me joy.
Kim Constantinesco: That’s an amazing story. So, Cory, I know we’re just scratching the surface on trauma, and there’s so much research and work around it. But is there anything else that you’d like to add about healing from trauma, add to our show?
Cory George: I’d like to say that healing can actually be a fun process. Healing is not just about therapy. Healing can be aromatherapy. It can be things that you can activate by buying oils and adding water and making your house smell good because that excites your brain. It’s about opening the door and letting the sunlight in because it’s a natural mood enhancer. It’s about walking outside for five minutes because it’s a natural mood enhancer. It’s about when you walk outside and you take a look at the leaves and the grass and it gives you that moment of grace and understanding that you can be grateful for the small things because you’re still here to see it. So trauma can be enlightening in a way where it’s not always deep, dark work. It can be that open window that you’ve always had closed.
Kim Constantinesco: Well, and it sounds like even just taking a few minutes out of your day, multiple times a day, could be more beneficial than spending an hour say sitting on a cushion and meditating or carving out an hour to do something else that helps you feel good. But it’s more about those little moments that you can build up.
Cory George: Absolutely and these are moments that are for some people who don’t have the funds to go out and buy books. These are moments that cost you less than nothing. It costs you nothing to let the sunshine in. It costs you nothing to put shoes on and walk, if you can walk. It costs you nothing to breathe in a scent or an aroma that helps to activate your brain. So these are low cost things. And these are things that if you can’t afford therapy, you can look these things up as well and say, they work for me as well.
So it’s not always about therapy. It’s about what is the help that I can manage with my resources? Because I don’t believe that you should go broke trying to have therapy, because if you’re broke then that’s another stressor. But if you can activate things in your community, if you can be in contact with your friends who can uplift you, those things usually don’t cost much.
Kim Constantinesco: Oh, and I know that’s such a huge relief for people to hear because a lot of times when you do hear the word “trauma” or “therapy” you think of a huge time commitment. You think of a huge financial commitment. But really the power is in your hands. And I think that can potentially bring some hope for people.
Cory George: Absolutely and that’s the thing about it is, you said it, power is in their hands. I’m a facilitator. I don’t call myself a healer. I just help you to bring out the things that have already been there or that trauma has smothered. But my goal is to help you see yourself because we are such dynamic beings, because trauma is a liar. Trauma says, this is how I want you to see this memory of this event, period. That’s all it is.
And because you see it this way, this is why you respond that way.
So my job is to enlighten in a way that’s helpful and that is a way that makes sure you’re safe in doing it. Because again, some of us can’t walk through these things alone.
Kim Constantinesco: Well Cory, you’re doing such wonderful work in this world, and I’m so grateful to have you on. But how can the One Drop community follow you and your work going forward?
Cory George: Absolutely. My Instagram name, which is really my life work, is Corygeorgecares. I chose the name because I do care about what I do and how I do it. They can find me on my website, it’s corygeorge.com. I take clients. But I also have thoughtful types of conversations and on the website and on Instagram they can also find out about my various other projects that I’m working on as well. So I’m always excited to hear from people and to also learn from them as well, too.
Kim Constantinesco: Well, Cory, thanks so much for joining us. It’s been so insightful, and we look forward to following you on social media and on your website and all the great work that you’re doing in this world.
Cory George: You are so very welcome and thank you so much for having me.
Kim Constantinesco: Thanks for listening to another episode of Life Without Limits. If you’re a fan of the show, don’t forget to subscribe and share the podcast with your friends and family. Stay tuned for more episodes that can help you manage your health and re-imagine possible in your life. We’re in this together.
Host: Thank you for listening to Life Without Limits. If you liked this episode, tell a friend. We’re here to help you take back your time, power and life, so you can live to your fullest potential.