What Exactly is Trauma?

By: Chris Anderson Psy.D.

Most people are aware that there are a variety of traumatic events and experiences that most people will agree have a high potential to be traumatizing to the majority of people. Experiencing physical or sexual abuse as well as psychological abuse or neglect tends to affect people significantly. Other events create trauma for people such as natural disasters, terrorism, community or school violence, military or wartime combat, and other life-threatening event like serious accidents, life-threatening events, or the abrupt and sudden loss of loved ones. Trauma is the resulting emotional, behavioral, and cognitive responses that result from living through these traumatic events. Most people experience some trauma response in the days and weeks following such events, which is very normal. For those whose symptoms persist beyond a month, they will fall into the category of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There are three types of traumas. Acute traumas result from a single event. Chronic trauma is the result of repeated and recurring trauma such as ongoing abuse. Complex trauma stems from exposure to a variety, and multiple traumatic events.

What Manifests from Trauma?

As noted above, trauma responses tend to manifest physically, emotionally, behaviorally, and cognitively. Physical manifestations include impaired sleep, loss of appetite, low energy, difficulty concentrating, nightmares, fatigue, headaches, GI issues, and more. Emotional responses run the spectrum from anger, fear, sadness, guilt, shame, and embarrassment, all with varying degrees of intensity. Behavioral symptoms often include withdrawal from others, isolation, avoidance of others and stimuli reminiscent of the trauma, reduced productivity and efficiency, abuse of alcohol or drugs to cope and self-medicate, and impulsive acts. Cognitive impacts include indecisiveness, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts or images, insecurity, self-doubt, loss of confidence, doubts around one’s safety, difficulty trusting self and others, trying to over-control your environment, and more. For many people, these symptoms can last months, years, or decades until the trauma is properly dealt with and resolved.

How Do You Heal From Trauma?

There are a variety of approaches and schools of thought on how best to heal and treat trauma. Many people have to start by acknowledging the trauma. Much like the grieving process, breaking through denial is the first major barrier in the healing process. Accepting support from friends, family, and professionals is often a challenge for some who pride themselves on being independent and self-reliant. It is important to realize that part of the problem with trauma is recognizing that we have no frame of reference to draw upon for how to deal with trauma. These experiences are extreme and unlike other simpler problems, we can solve by drawing from our successes in tackling similar problems. For many, the initial parts of healing involve dealing with and trying to mitigate those physical, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive symptoms. Keeping things as normal as possible and building in some extra time to cope and work on self-care is important. Keeping expectations realistic is important. You cannot operate at your normal efficiency when you bear the weight of a traumatic event which is no different than accepting you could not run optimally if you have the flu. Another part of the healing process is avoiding unhealthy outlets such as denial, avoidance, withdrawal, substances, and impulsivity. Eventually, many people need to process emotionally and cognitively the events of the trauma so they can work toward some level of integration and acceptance. Many are able to do this with family and friends and others seek out the guidance of professionals. Some specially trained therapists may help use Eye Movement Desensitization Retraining (EMDR). This is a unique technique that has gained a lot of research backing as an efficient and effective technique designed to help with brain and cognitive integration of the trauma so that it does not continue to replay itself over and over again.

If you are interested in resolving past trauma and/or trying EMDR, feel free to contact IPC so you can schedule an appointment with one of our providers for a more thorough assessment.  Please call us now at 763-416-4167, or request an appointment on our website: WWW.IPC-MN.COM so we can sit down with you and complete a thorough assessment and help you develop a plan of action that will work for you. Life is too short to be unhappy. Find the peace of mind you deserve.

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