What exactly is trauma?
The word “trauma” can be considered both in a physical as well as a psychological context. Physically, it means any sort of injury which can be inflicted upon an individual. Psychologically, trauma signifies an emotional response to any event which has had a distressing or depressing outcome. In this article, we shall continue to use the term trauma in a psychological context.
American Psychological Association describes trauma as an emotional response to any terrible event faced by an individual, like an accident, war, rape, or a loss of a loved one. Different individuals respond to trauma in their own and unique way. Most often, it comes in the form of shock, denial, and periods of extreme grief. Surprisingly, some individuals aren’t even traumatized at all, which can also be a cause of concern.
Trauma doesn’t only result in a short-term response; it can also give birth to a lot of long-term effects as well trigger some underlying psychological issues. They can come in the form of flashbacks and can also affect real life relationships. Physically, they can induce headaches. Nausea, and fatigue.
As spoken before, trauma affects some people more than others. So much so, that they may find it difficult to move on with their lives normally like they used to before the trauma occurred. These kinds of long-term implications can lead to a condition called PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
What exactly results in trauma?
Any event causing physical, psychological, emotional, or spiritual harm can lead to trauma. For example, a girl who has burnt her hand may fear to cook again. A soldier experiences flashbacks from his time back at war.
A rape victim may keep revisiting the event inside her head or completely block it out to an extent that her memory gets affected, which is also a result of trauma. Other responses include being in denial, feeling threatened, anxious, depressed, and difficult to recover emotionally.
In these cases, the person can only improve with the right sort of help, guidance, and support. An experienced psychologist can help people recover from their trauma and move on back with their day-to-day lives.
Some examples of traumatic events are:
- Physical accident or attack
- Being kidnapped
- Death of a beloved family member, spouse, friend, or pet.
- Abandonment by a parent
- Domestic abuse
- Sexual abuse or harassment
- Loss of job
What are the symptoms of psychological trauma?
There isn’t only one response to someone who has faced trauma. Different people have different ways of reacting to trauma, and there are various physical and psychological reactions pertaining to trauma response.
Some of the emotional & psychological symptoms of a person going through trauma are:
- Lack of concentration
- Mood swings and irritability
- A feeling of numbness and disconnection from the world around you
- Self-blaming and guilt
- Shock and disbelief
Physical symptoms of trauma:
- Heartbeat irregularity
- Muscle tension
Different reactions of people faced with trauma
Trauma can affect an individual on a personal level. For example, a girl who had been wronged may find it difficult to leave the house if she feels the outside world is not safe, and that people outside are dangerous and are all set out to harm her. Traumatic events are strong enough to even challenge hope and motivation one might be able to summon to combat their own vulnerability.
Cognitive response to trauma
Below are a few examples of thought process changes that result in response to traumatic events and stress:
Misjudging a flow circumstance as hazardous on the grounds that it looks like, even distantly, a past traumatic experience (e.g., a girl mistaking a man for her abuser because he may be wearing the same shirt or has the same height when in fact in could be an innocent passerby because a man attacked her 5 years ago).
A feeling faced by a victim because they didn’t suffer as worse as the other victims did who went through the same trauma. They attempt to make sense of the trauma in this way and blame themselves for doing something wrong to attract such sort of behavior in the first place.
Justifications of the situation or attacker’s behavior:
Inaccurately trying to rationalize or justify the situation or an attacker’s behavior by thinking that somehow it was for the victim’s own betterment. Traumatic bonding exists; it’s an emotional attachment to protect the mind to ensure survival engaging in interpersonal trauma. Stockholm syndrome derives from this attachment and includes faithfulness and compassion towards a victim’s own keeper.
Hallucinations, fits, and delusions:
Hallucination occurs when the trauma starts inflicting the mind enough to conjure images, making a victim feel that it’s happening all over again. This often arises when the victim already had an underlying psychological issue and the trauma triggered those instances and they are often biological in nature but can also occur regardless. (e.g., a girl believing a man to be her abuser because he happened to wear the same shirt or shares the same height).
Interfering thoughts and recollections:
Experiencing, all of a sudden or want, memories related to trauma. These interfering contemplations and recollections can trigger compelling passionate behavioral response, as though the trauma was repeating in the present.
These intrusive memories and thoughts can come quickly, and can often be problematic. In any event an individual encounters a trigger, the person may become traumatized. For example, some people, through clinical practices are forced to recollect their trauma and experiences, and can make an instance where an individual finds it hard to discern between the past and the present.
At any point, directing a spotlight on trauma can retrigger the events in a patient’s mind and it’s important to pre-develop strategies to counsel trauma victims.
Medical conditions resulting from trauma
According to Dr. Ressler, most of the people that are going through trauma and chronic diseases are those that have gone through something traumatic in their childhood. Trauma that is caused in the early childhood is considered a risk factor for practically entirety, if we are talking from adult depression to PTSD and most of the psychiatric disorders, as well as a lot of medical problems, as well as cardiovascular problems for instance such as heart attack and stroke, cancer, and in some cases obesity.
These effects are more likely to reflect these two aspects:
Behavioral changes resulting from trauma.
Often those people who suffer from traumatic memories will always be searching for ways to escape the pain that comes along with it by participating into things that can cause harm to their health such as drinking, smoking, drug use, or even overeating that can further result in obesity to get comfort and escape from the thoughts.
“Those can all be used as a coping mechanism, a way of dealing with emotional dysregulation that occurs when someone has been traumatized,” states Roberts. These kinds of habits can lead to health problems and a person may often develop some serious kind of disease.
If these kinds of conditions occur then the problem rises and go beyond unhealthy habits. Many experts have examined and believe that there is a direct biological effect that arises when your body goes through extreme stress that is usually caused by trauma. In your life, when you experience something that provokes your anxiety then you automatically go through stress and your body activates stress response.
“Your body produces more adrenaline, your heart races, and your body primes itself to react,” says Roberts. A person who has experienced trauma, the pain and the stress that comes along with it may have stronger flows and rush of adrenaline and experience them more frequently as compared to someone who does not possesses the same history.
“This causes wear and tear on the body — just as it would in a car where the engine was constantly revving and racing,” she says.
Stress responses have also been found and established in people who have experienced discrimination of some sort all through their lives. “It ages your system faster,” says Roberts.
Chronic stress can increase inflammation in the body, and inflammation has been associated with a broad range of illness, including cardiovascular disease and autoimmune diseases, says Roberts. Early trauma disturbs the inflammatory system of a particular person. This can lead to longstanding abnormalities in this system and prolonged health problems that are usually triggered by continuous inflammation. Normally, the more trauma you go through, the worse your health gets and you may even start aging before.
Healing from trauma
The symptoms of trauma lasts for quite a few days and can even last to a few months. Slowly and gradually fading away as you get busy in your daily routine and your mind starts processing the event that occurred that disturbed you to such an extent.
But trauma does not go away that easily. Even when you feel that everything is fine and now that you are feeling better, some painful memories will still occur from time to time because of the painful memories and emotions. More importantly if you are triggered by something that reminds you of the unsettling event and trauma.
If the symptoms do not go away that easily or they tend to become even worse than before and it is getting much harder for you to get over the event for a long period of time, then it is more likely that you are going through Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While you may go through emotional trauma, it is basically a normal response to a very troubling event. This emotion that you feel becomes PTSD when your nervous system gets stuck at one place and remains in the psychological shock that it got where you are more likely unable to get over the particular event and process your emotions.
Even if the traumatic event involves a death of somebody very dear to you, it is a dire need for you as a survivor to handle the loss, at least for the time being for the purpose of your own health, sense and safety. The most natural response to this loss that you suffer is in the form of grief. Grieving is a process and it takes time to heal.
PTSD develops when the symptoms that are caused by trauma continue or gets even worse in the following weeks and months that have gone by even after the stressful event that caused you immense pain. PTSD causes serious stress and even affects with the daily life activities of a person and personal relationships.
Symptoms of PTSD include severe anxiety, flashback of the certain event and continuous memories of the certain event.
Another symptom of PTSD that is known is avoidance behaviors. If a person tries not to think about the event that caused him or her trauma, visiting the particular place where the event took place or even avoiding the triggers can be a sign of PTSD.
PTSD may tend to last for years to come, even though treatment can help people to handle their symptoms, triggers and improve their quality of life and continue living a stress free life.
Acute Stress Disorder vs. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
It does not necessarily mean that every person who goes through certain type of trauma can develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some people are more likely to develop other type of symptoms, but they go away after a few weeks. This is known as acute stress disorder (ASD).
When these types of symptoms take over a person for more than a month and affect that person’s ability to move physically and think properly, that person is said to be suffering from PTSD. Now every person is unique and the way of suffering through pain is also different. Majority of the people do not tend to show symptoms of PTSD for quite a long time and months after the event itself.
Some people go through with PTSD symptoms of a traumatic experience for the remaining of their life. Symptoms of PTSD can also worsen and can result in panic attacks, state of depression, suicidal thoughts and feelings, drug abuse, the desire to be isolated and not being able to function properly to complete their daily tasks.
There are various different treatments can help people with trauma to manage with their symptoms and improve their quality of life so that they can perform their daily tasks and go back to normal.
Majority of the doctors advise to go for therapy and to talk to an expert. It is often the first-line treatment for trauma. Preferably, a person will be advised to work with a trauma informed or trauma focused therapist who will help the person move on and cope up with the stressful event.
There are various types of therapy that a person with trauma could benefit from include:
Cognitive behavioral therapy
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may assist a person in benefitting and changing the way they think in order to control their behaviors and emotions in a more productive way. According to many studies and evidence, it is seen that CBT is the most effective approach for PTSD.
Many therapists use somatic or body-based methods to help the mind and the body handle trauma and help eases the pain and diverts the mind from trauma.
A review of the literature in the ‘psychotherapy and Counselling Journal Of Australia’ found that body-based therapies could really benefit a lot of people. These therapies consist of:
- Somatic experiencing: This approach basically includes a therapist that will help and benefit a person to relive traumatic memories that are troubling him in a safe space where the person feels comfortable.
- Sensorimotor psychotherapy: This kind of therapy relates psychotherapy with body-based methods to turn traumatic memories in a much more productive way where the person can use this into sources of strength.
- Acupoint stimulation: This involves a physician applying pressure to specific pressure points on the body, which stimulates a state of relaxation and the person feels much more relaxed after the troubling event.
- Touch therapies: Other touch therapies include Reiki, healing touch, and therapeutic touch therapy and this has also shown to benefit a person.
Presently, there is not as much proof to support the efficacy and success of somatic therapies as compared to CBT and EDMR. Many experts say that more data on these methods will help to actually ascertain how they work and their ability to relieve a person from trauma.
Studies show that medication alone cannot at any cost alleviate trauma or PTSD, but it can help a person cope up with their symptoms. For instance, such as anxiety, depression, and sleep disruptions. A person should talk to their physician about how they should explore their options and see for themselves what is the best solution for their trauma.