Trauma Can Have Lasting Effects
Trauma is a word that has been a focus for the last several years. Trauma has a significant effect on all facets of our lives. Childhood trauma has a lasting effect on reactions, behaviors, and relationships into adulthood.
Trauma is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as the emotional response someone has to an extremely negative event. While trauma is a normal reaction to a horrible event, the effects can be so severe that they interfere with an individual’s ability to live a normal life. In a case such as this, help may be needed to treat the stress and dysfunction caused by the traumatic event and to restore the individual to a state of emotional well-being. (https://www.psychguides.com/trauma/)
In recent years, clinicians have been implementing a more trauma focused approach to mental health treatment. Many mental health disorders (Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and childhood disorders such as Reactive Attachment Disorder and Separation Anxiety Disorder) can all have underlying adverse events (trauma) that are catalysts of the disorder.
As we get older, if we have unresolved trauma, we can exhibit symptoms such as detachment, unexplained or heightened irritability, anger, fear, sadness, or shame. Strong feelings attached to current stressors can trigger responses from past traumas and make the current event even more problematic for an individual.
There can be significant emotional dysregulation and individuals may turn to substance abuse to self-medicate, or may engage in self injurious behaviors or high risk behaviors.
Children who experienced neglect or abuse in childhood may, as adults, struggle to maintain positive relationships, be manipulative, live in constant fight or flight mode, and live in a constant state of self-preservation. To others this looks like selfishness, defensiveness, or intimidating behaviors.
When people experience trauma they either feel “too much” or “too little”. This would be feeling overwhelmed as opposed to feeling numb. When individuals present to professionals as numb the severity of their trauma may be assessed as less than it really is due to the individual’s hiding of their true emotions.
Individuals experiencing the above mentioned issues will need treatment including, but not limited to, cognitive restructuring, mindfulness practices, and trauma specific desensitization approaches.
Often times, individuals exposed to trauma will have somatic or physiological symptoms that lead them to seek medical expertise as opposed to counseling. Many times physical symptoms can be a result of emotional distress. With that being said, however, always rule out medical conditions and consult with your physician.
Trauma can cause people to make cognitive errors and misinterpret circumstances for something they are not. It can sometimes cause hallucinations or delusions specific to the trauma experienced. For example, a young girl sexually abused by her father can see the man walking down the street as being her father even though it is not. Individuals can also experience intrusive thoughts or memories pertaining to the trauma. These thoughts can be rapid and repetitive as well as disturbing.
Dissociation is a symptom of trauma where the individual distances themselves from the trauma. (Briere, 1996a)
POTENTIAL SIGNS OF DISSOCIATION
¯Fixed or “glazed” eyes
¯Sudden flattening of affect
¯Long periods of silence
¯ Stereotyped movements
¯ Responses not congruent with the present context or situation
¯ Excessive intellectualization
Anxiety can be (but is not always) a telltale sign of trauma. People who may suddenly exhibit significant irritability, night terrors, mood swings, and poor concentration may have been exposed to some type of recent trauma. Individuals who habitually exhibit those symptoms could also have been exposed to trauma but it may not have been as recent.
It is important for medical and mental health professionals to be aware of these symptoms to properly diagnose their clients.
Many people find healthy ways to cope with, respond to, and heal from trauma. Often, people automatically reevaluate their values and redefine what is important after a trauma.
¯Increased bonding with family and community.
¯Redefined or increased sense of purpose and meaning.
¯Increased commitment to a personal mission.
¯ Increased charitable giving and volunteerism.
Oftentimes, survivors of childhood trauma can have significant issues making and maintaining healthy, positive relationships. They may feel betrayed by their abuser and this carries over into subsequent relationships. Individuals can struggle to develop positive attachments to others causing negative behaviors and interactions.
LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF TRAUMA
¯ Denial of the traumatic event or events
¯ Developing numbness to the trauma (detaching emotions from thoughts and actions)
¯ Extreme anger or sadness
¯ Emotional outbursts (emotional dysregulation)
¯ Experiencing shame as a response to the trauma
¯ Somatic symptoms (physical responses, like shaking)
¯Sleep problems and insomnia
¯ High blood pressure or cardiovascular disorders
¯Substance abuse disorders
¯Development of PTSD