What is trauma?
The word trauma stems from the Greek word for wound. It doesn’t apply just to physical injuries; it can also refer to the emotional or psychological scars left from the aftermath of a traumatic event.
People who have been traumatised and come to our clinic often describe having problems with sleep, panic and depression.
When they try to sleep, upsetting memories from their past flood their consciousness, and they tend to wake up in the early hours because of nightmares. In some circumstances, people suffer from flashbacks.
Many people feel highly anxious after experiencing a traumatic event. They feel agitated, panicked, and hyper-vigilant about danger. Their threat-scanner has become extremely sensitive, making it difficult to focus on daily tasks.
People often suffer from low mood, hopelessness and shameful feelings. They may blame themselves for what happened, or they self-criticise for not being able to forget what happened.
Trauma is no one’s fault.
No one wants something terrible to happen to them. Many terrifying events happen because of other people, accidents or natural forces. You didn’t ask for these events.
Yet, in its attempt to make sense of what happened, your mind often blames you for not having done something to protect yourself.
It’s possible to feel many feelings after experiencing a trauma. You may feel angry, frightened, guilty, ashamed, or relieved. You may feel numb or speak in a very matter-of-fact way about something highly emotive.
Like grief, people deal with trauma in different ways. See if you recognise any of these responses:
- Avoiding people and places
- Drinking more alcohol
- Dwelling on what happened
- Worrying about it happening again
- Staying at home
- Keeping busy
- Remaining quiet
After suffering from a traumatic event, many people no longer feel safe. They do what we all do when we feel threatened; we run away, fight or hide.
Flight, Fight & Freeze: Survival Responses
Running away is often called flight. Have you ever heard of fight, flight or freeze?
It’s a way of describing the body’s survival response. When your mind or body senses danger, you naturally run away, fight to defend yourself or freeze.
When people feel traumatised, they notice that they have a freeze response during the traumatic event. It’s like when the mouse plays dead in the presence of a cat to stay alive. By being still, the cat may get bored and walk off, giving the mouse a chance to escape.
Humans have the same survival response to situations we can’t escape or defend ourselves. For example, many people in car accidents couldn’t do anything to prevent the collision, so they feel vulnerable.
What other types of trauma are there?
Many different events can cause trauma. They include:
- Accidents at home or work
- Physical assault or violence
- Sexual assault
- Child abuse
- Persistent threat due to racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia or transphobia
- Giving Birth / having a birth with complications
- Medical interventions such as surgery, taking blood or cancer treatment
- Seeing a loved one suffer
- Witnessing harm to another person
- Natural disasters such as earthquakes or tsunamis
We created the above list to help you identify the origins of your trauma. There may be other types of traumatic events which we have not considered. If you can locate another cause, trust your instinct because you are probably right.
Do you have PTSD?
It is possible. If you have experienced one of the above incidents at least once and suffer from chronic anxiety, depression or unexpected panic, then you have probably been traumatised by these events.
PTSD is a psychiatric term meaning Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Using the word disorder to describe a natural set of human responses doesn’t make sense to us. Your reactions are normal human responses, so we prefer to use the word injury instead of disorder.
You may have been traumatised but do not meet all the criteria for PTSD. Rather than meaning you don’t have trauma, it reflects how the PTSD criteria are not broad enough to include everyone’s experiences.
It can cause problems for funding through personal injury solicitors, but at Openforwards, it is of little consequence. We treat the whole person, not merely the psychiatric diagnosis.
What does trauma do to a person?
Trauma affects many parts of your life. It can negatively affect your body, mind, relationships, health, and work.
The body often develops hypersensitivity to threats, meaning it often overreacts to signs of a possible threat. Trauma Psychologists often talk about how the body remembers or keeps the score, meaning that in some way, it’s not just the mind that remembers traumatic events; the body does too.
In trauma-focused therapy, we focus on helping you bring calm to the body. In our view, it is essential for trauma recovery.
Many people suffer from intrusive memories or flashbacks. They are similar, but it is also helpful to know the difference between the two terms. When you have an intrusive memory, you often have a vivid recollection of the event and re-experience a fear response, e.g. racing heart, rapid breathing, lightheadedness or sweating.
A flashback has all those elements, but you also lose touch with the reality of where you are and when it is. You feel as though you are back in the event, e.g. seeing and hearing what occurred. With an intrusive memory, you still know it was a past event, but with a flashback, you think it’s happening here and now.
Trauma can have a detrimental effect on your relationships too. You feel embarrassed, guilty or ashamed and spend a lot more time on your own. Others feel disconnected from you, which can put a strain on relationships.
You may feel more irritable and quick-tempered. Others may want to keep their distance because their moods seem unpredictable.
You may struggle to work because of these changes. The more you stay at home, isolated and withdrawn, the more likely you are to feel depressed.
The Downward Spiral of Trauma
The effects of a traumatic event can send you on a downward spiral.
Please remember, it isn’t your fault.
Please also hear me when I say the situation is far from hopeless. You can change your life around and recover from what happened to you.
We can help you. Please get in touch today to speak to a therapist or schedule a consultation. We offer CBT, EMDR, ACT and CFT, which can all significantly help with trauma. Are you ready to take the next step?