After surviving a life-threatening event or an experience of extreme distress of some sort, it is possible to experience psychological trauma. Trauma left untreated can lead to a series of mental disorders, which will vary person by person and experience by experience. Some will have continued problems with relationships or self-esteem until the traumatic experience is explained and addressed, and others may have extreme anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder until they are able to receive therapy that allows the horror of the experience to exit their systems.
Everyone has memories that they wish they were able to retrieve, and others that they would like to forget. However, for the trauma sufferer, there is more to deal with than simply unpleasant memories. Traumatic memories can lead to ongoing distressing thoughts. These thoughts can present themselves in the form of unrelated nightmares, especially in the case of children, or in dreams and even flashbacks to a specific event.
Many of the causes of trauma-related disorders lie within the subconscious. As a result, a person may appear to forget the specifics of an event, but still react negatively to things that are associated with the memory, without even realizing it. This type of trauma effect commonly leads to ‘unexplained’ anxiety attacks. It can also result in phobias of places or objects of association. One form of treatment for such buried trauma is to dig up the source, perhaps by trying to re-live the traumatic experience, and to extinguish it through therapy.
As this therapy takes place in a safe and controlled setting, recalling the traumatic experience is not harmful. If you are considering seeking out therapy that will require you to address certain traumatic experiences in order to learn better ways to view or move on, there is no need to fear that accessing these long-stored-away memories will make you ‘lose it’ somehow. Actually, therapy sessions will help you to discard irrational thoughts, which may include guilt or fear that are no longer useful. Therapy sessions can really help. Brain research shows that people who overcome trauma through therapy are well prepared to have good response to distressing experiences in the future. 1
Trauma is a common experience among soldiers. About 20% of those who return from the Iraq and Afghanistan battles do so with a diagnosis of PTSD. Breathing therapy is often an alternative chosen by veterans that seems to have success in anxiety relief. Breathing regulation can help calm a person to return to a normal pace and status of life after returning from the chaos of war.
Another source of trauma is domestic, physical, and sexual abuse. This type of trauma can be one-time but is more often recurring. Sometimes an effort to escape such abuse results in substance use, which can result in further trauma. Multiple traumas may ensue, and can lead to feelings of worthlessness and despair. When contact is lost, fear of abandonment especially may develop, leading to trust issues and challenges maintaining self-esteem and healthy relationships in the future.
Someone who has experienced trauma must learn to understand their symptoms and the event that happened in a way that is beneficial. Perspective adjustment is key. This is not an ability that you will have within yourself alone of you have suffered severe trauma from a distressing event. Some are objectively able to deal with an event without becoming distressed, but the fact that you have shown trauma symptoms is evidence that you will need external assistance in the readjustment process. This does not have to take a long time, even a few sessions of consultation can help you to re-create though patterns that will leave you empowered with a better state of mental health for years to come.
Trauma can lead to dissociative disorders, which cause a person to feel quite out of touch with reality. If you have experienced trauma, then you might from time to time feel like you are looking at yourself from another place. You may even get an extremely confusing sensation that you do not actually exist. This could be the mind’s attempt to avoid addressing distress in a variety of situations. Rather than provide an escape from reality, it just distances you from the ability to cope with the reality that you do share in. Addressing the source of trauma will help to treat these symptoms as well. 2
Medical trauma differs greatly by definition from psychological trauma, although the both can be the result from one same experience. For example, the severe bloody cuts and bruises on your body after a dangerous car accident are categorized as medical trauma. The memories that follow you of the sounds, images, and feelings associated with the accident- those are related to psychological trauma. Trauma is common in this world we live in, but it can be successfully addressed.
1. Klemm W. R. Professor of neuroscience at Texas A&M University, (2010). Psychology Today. Retrieved 3 February, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/memory-medic/201009/traumatic-memories.
2. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.