Psychological trauma occurs when a person experiences an extremely distressing event that is outside of his or her control. Untreated trauma can lead to a series of mental health conditions. People who have experienced trauma may experience problems with daily living, relationships, or self-esteem. Some may go on to experience extreme anxiety or posttraumatic stress disorder. Trauma disorders are treatable, but if they are left untreated, they may impact physical health, lead to addictions, or lead to worsening mental health, or even death.1
These thoughts can present themselves in the form of unrelated nightmares, increased stress response,irritability, and even “flashback” memories that feel like the trauma is happening all over again.
The brain reacts to trauma in a unique way, and it does not process traumatic information the same way it processes everyday data. 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 commonly leads to unexplained anxiety attacks, hyper-awareness of surroundings, or strange feelings of dissociation. It can also result in phobias of places or objects of association.
These feelings can be so distressing that people will go to great lengths to avoid thinking about them — they may avoid therapy, or they may begin using substances to block the memories. Unfortunately, blocking out memories of trauma will only make matters worse. Modern trauma treatment can make a difference.
Therapy should take place in a safe and comfortable setting. If done correctly, healthy therapy will allow a safe place to work through the trauma in a non-harmful, non-distressing way. If you are considering therapy that will require you to address certain traumatic experiences in order to recover, there is no need to fear that these long-stored-away memories will make you ‘lose it’ somehow.
Counseling can help lower stress related to past traumas. Therapy sessions will help you discard irrational thoughts, which may include leftover or misplaced guilt or fear that are no longer useful. Brain research shows that people who overcome trauma through therapy are well prepared to have good response to distressing experiences in the future.2
Where Does Trauma Begin?
Trauma is a common experience among soldiers. About 20% of those who have returned from recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan eventually receive a diagnosis of PTSD. Meditation, which includes certain types of exercises and activities, is often an alternative chosen by veterans that has shown 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. Other treatments include EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), cognitive behavioral therapy, group therapy, and internal family systems therapy.
Another source of trauma is domestic, physical, or sexual abuse. Even childhood neglect can cause trauma reactions. This type of trauma can be a one-time event, but is more often the result of recurring events. Sometimes an effort to escape abuse results in substance use, which can result in further trauma. Multiple traumas may ensue, and can lead to feelings of worthlessness and despair. Untreated abuse trauma often leads to PTSD, trust issues, and challenges maintaining self-esteem and healthy relationships in the future.
Recovery from Trauma
Someone who has experienced trauma may benefit from learning to understand their symptoms and the event that happened more clearly. Because trauma changes the way the brain works, newer treatments and approaches to therapy are designed to help get the brain back on track.
Severe trauma will not go away without help. Even if you are able to live a normal working life, untreated trauma symptoms can make each day a struggle.A sure sign that it is time to seek help begins when substance use, such as alcohol or drug use, have become a coping mechanism. If relationships or day-to-day happiness are impacted by trauma, treatment can help—even in worst-case scenarios.
Trauma can also lead to dissociative disorders, which cause a person to feel quite out of touch with reality. If you have experienced trauma, then you might occasionally 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.3
Medical trauma differs greatly by definition from psychological trauma, although the both can be the result from one same experience. For example, the injuries after a dangerous accident are categorized as medical trauma. Memories of the sounds, images and feelings associated with the accident are related to psychological trauma. Trauma is common in this world we live in, but it can be successfully treated.
1 The Effects of Trauma Do Not Have to Last a Lifetime. American Psychological Association. Jan 2004. Web. Accessed 14 Jul 2017.
2 Klemm, W. R. Traumatic Memories. Psychology Today. 13 Sept 2017. Web. Accessed 14 Jul 2017.
3 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM-5. 5th ed. Arlington: American Psychiatric Association, 2013. Web. Accessed 14 Jul 2017.