“Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams, healing can begin.”
― Danielle Bernock, Emerging With Wings: A True Story of Lies, Pain, And The LOVE that Heals
A traumatic event impacts different people in different ways, and may or may not continue to plague their lives as time goes on. Those who are able to undergo a traumatic event and process the thoughts, feelings and emotions in a brief amount of time, might not feel the lasting effects of trauma. Others who continuously feel overwhelmed by the trauma may need to take more intervening steps to experience healing.
What is trauma?
Trauma is the response to an event which is incredibly distressing and/or disturbing. It inhibits one’s ability to cope and feel a full range of emotions, it causes helplessness and it negatively impacts one’s sense of self. Simply put, trauma hurts one’s emotional, physical, mental and spiritual stability.
What causes trauma?
A situation does not need to escalate into war, a natural disaster or a devastating accident to cause trauma. Trauma can be caused through a catastrophic event like any of the above, but it can also occur through long-term exposure to critically stressful experiences. Such experiences that cause trauma overtime include:
Physical, sexual or emotional abuse
Racism, oppression or discrimination
Witnessing or being victim to violence or terrorism
Neglect, especially as a child
Living with someone struggling with a substance use disorder or mental health disorder
The death of a loved one, especially in the case of suicide
This list is not all-inclusive, as individuals process trauma and experience trauma in varying ways.
Signs of trauma
Just as traumatic situations vary, so too do the signs of trauma vary. Unlike listing the symptoms of a cold, it’s not quite as easy to list the symptoms of trauma. However, there are signs which do appear to be more common and consistent in individuals who’ve undergone a traumatic experience, and which can be a starting point from which counselors can diagnose and begin the treatment of trauma.
Signs fall into separating categories, including emotional, behavioral, physical and cognitive changes.
Shame or guilt
Difficulty feeling positive emotions
Anger or irritability
Avoidance behaviors, like staying away from people/places/things that trigger memories of the event
Lack of interest in social events and previously enjoyed activities/hobbies
Easily irritated or quick to lash out
Reckless or self-destructive behavior
Keeping busy all the time to avoid thinking about the traumatic event/situation
Constant exhaustion and fatigue
Edginess, or being easily startled
Changes in eating and/or sleeping patterns
Headaches and achiness in the body
Intrusive thoughts of the events
Intense emotional distress as a response to something reminding one of the event
Inability to concentrate or recall memories
An overwhelming sense of fear
Again, this list of symptoms is not all-inclusive, but the manifestation of these signs, along with an experience which could be classified as traumatic, can be a concrete indicator of trauma in one’s life.
The first step to addressing trauma begins with the recognition that there might be a connection between patterns of behavior in your life to events which occurred in the past, that had a lasting effect on your mind and spirit.
Perhaps the event was obvious, such as an act of violence; maybe the event was not one isolated incident, but a chain of events defining your up-bringing. The latter can be more difficult to pinpoint, especially if the trauma was experienced as a child. What you grew up with could be considered “normal” in your mind, until certain realizations bring about the truth, what characterized your childhood is not normal at all and had a lasting, negative impact on your wellbeing.
Coming to such realizations on your own can take time, patience and a strong sense of self-awareness. It’s not impossible to recognize trauma in your own life, but it can take longer to heal when you’re attempting to identify and address it alone.
Seeking trauma healing and treatment
When it comes to diagnosing and addressing trauma, healing is best brought about with the trained guidance of a trauma-informed therapist. These individuals not only have experience with trauma, but they are trained to see individuals as more than just another trauma case. They help individuals experience healing by taking the time to understand their personal story, their life experiences and their individual methods of coping with trauma. Through this understanding, a personalized treatment plan can be created to promote permanent, lasting healing.