Sensory processing issues and trauma

A friend recently asked me how my sensory processing issues and trauma interplay.

The truth is, it’s hard for me to fully distinguish between the two.  A sensory-based reaction can mimic a traumatic response.  I think sometimes it can *be* a traumatic response.  Perhaps more than sometimes.  Having sensory processing disorder can mean that I’m consistently in flight-or-flight mode, either responding or anticipating a response.  There have definitely been times when someone has suspected that I’m having a response based a past traumatic event when it’s been more sensory based.

Then there are times like this:

I have an intense reaction.  I tell someone about the experience.  They tell me I am not having the experience, or that I am exaggerating, or they somehow invalidate that experience in another way.  I then invalidate myself.  This can be traumatic in its own way, and at the very least, can lead to me undermining my own very real experiences.  This has happened quite a few times throughout my life, enough that I still at times find myself doubting my own perspective.

…and situations like these:

My sensory processing issues affected me as I learned to drive.  There was real fear, and it felt really overwhelming to be out on the road and dealing with so much stimulation on all levels.  Then I got into accidents and had intense reactions.  These experiences were traumatic for me.  From then on, trauma AND sensory issues affected my experience of driving.  (I do quite well with driving now, and it’s taken me a long time, some personal work, and a lot of acceptance).

My tactile defensiveness have affected how I experienced touch.  I remember how challenging it was in the early stages of romantic and sexual relationships, where I would get overstimulated.  It felt like something I had to push through to “make it okay.”  Writing that feels a bit heart-wrenching, because who wants that?  I experienced sensual touch as both overstimulating and pleasurable, and it sometimes felt like I was at war with those parts of myself.  Once, when a person pressured me and violated my boundaries, I experienced that as traumatic.  There have also been times where even the softest, most well-meaning touch has felt like too much, and repeated times of pushing those limits definitely affected me.

So, overall, my answer is:  For me, I think it often begins with a sensory-based reaction.  When something I interpret as traumatic happens, it piles on top of that and increases the intensity of my triggers and responses.  In the end, it’s something I address and heal within myself through therapeutic work, acceptance, and acknowledging my experiences as valid and real.

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