Understanding The Effects Of Trauma
Trauma is a word that is used in several different ways depending on which professional you are speaking with. In the medical field, trauma means an injury to the body that causes some type of physical damage, which can be large or small. In the counselling field, trauma refers to an experience that is emotionally damaging, painful and causes distress. When people experience trauma in this sense there may be no outward sign of injury but they often struggle with coping, feeling powerless and also feeling unable to correct the problem.
Subjective Not Objective
One of the most important aspects of trauma for everyone to keep in mind is that it is highly personal and subjective. Everyone reacts to real or potential threats and experiences in different ways. Often people accept that someone has emotional trauma if they have been though a harrowing or horrific event in their life. This could include being assaulted, being in car accident, or experiencing a fire or another type of natural or man-made tragedy.
However, people can also be traumatised just by witnessing some of these events. A person who witnesses a car accident where there was a serious injury or a loss of life may be distressed over just being at the scene and may begin to experience problems with being a vehicle or driving or even walking beside a roadway.
Other causes of trauma can be more chronic or continuous. Discrimination, harassment at the workplace, chronic illness or injury, bullying, separation, death, humiliation, negative public experiences, oppression or being with an emotionally abusive partner can all lead to trauma that builds over time.
The effects of trauma, just like the causes of trauma, are different for individuals of different ages and with different overall coping strategies. Children who are constantly exposed to trauma in the family or in their environment may actually develop different responses to future events in their life. They may have hyperarousal, or constant anxiety, as well as the possibility of development of a coping mechanism called disassociation.
Disassociation can last a lifetime and results in the individual detaching, or shutting down, whenever they feel anxious or threatened. Whether the child develops hyperarousal or disassociation, they will lose their sense of self-control and self-autonomy and often see themselves as helpless to achieve good things in their life or to be happy and in charge of their destiny.
In adults, trauma is most common if there is a history of trauma for the person in their childhood. However, anyone can be traumatised by things that are considered to be abnormal, threatening or frightening events.
The symptoms of trauma can be mild to severe and they may come and go based on your environment and other stressors in your life. The most common symptoms include:
- Irritability and mood swings combined with anxiety
- A fear that is different from normal
- Feelings of sadness, loss or hopelessness
- Withdrawing from others
- Agitation, insomnia and nightmares
- Difficulty concentrating
- Irregular heartbeat, including racing pulse
- Fatigue and exhaustion
- Headaches and muscular aches and pains
- Flashbacks and unwelcome memories
- Avoiding things that remind you of the source of the trauma
If you experience any of these symptoms after an atypical event in your life, counselling can help you work through the trauma and choose positive and proactive coping mechanisms that will help you manage this challenge in your life.