What is Trauma?
Trauma is a word that is often used to describe a range of experiences and symptoms. It is a physiological or emotional response to something that had a deeply disturbing effect on an individual. It can be a present or past experience and often has lingering effects on the rest of our nervous system.
We can have small trauma’s or big trauma’s throughout our life. Small trauma’s can be the loss of a loved animal or a bullying incident in school. Big trauma can be a car accident or being injured while serving our country. The individual is the one who identifies whether a trauma is big or small based on how their body is responding to it.
Trauma can have a wide-reaching impact on one’s physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing, potentially affecting all aspects of life. Without proper therapy for trauma, trauma can continue to affect a person throughout their life.
The Impact of Trauma on the Brain
Trauma has been linked to a wide range of physical, psychological, and behavioral effects. The impact of trauma on the brain is particularly profound, as it can result in neurological disturbances that can last for extended periods of time or even become permanent.
Traumatic events/experiences create a stress response within our bodies. This stress response has been shown to affect the amygdala, hippocampus, and prefrontal cortex. Over time and/or left untreated, changes to the brain in these areas can result. Learning, memory, and the way we process information can be altered and affected. Bessel van der Kolk describes three additional ways the brain changes when trauma has occurred.
Symptoms of Trauma
Symptoms of trauma are vast and can look like many other disorders and illnesses. It’s important to talk to a skilled practitioner to better understand your symptoms in relation to trauma. Below is a list of trauma symptoms we often see:
- Intrusive thoughts of the event that may occur out of the blue
- Visual images of the event
- Loss of memory and concentration abilities
- Mood swings
- Avoidance of activities or places that trigger memories of the event
- Social isolation and withdrawal
- Lack of interest in previously-enjoyable activities
- Easily startled
- Tremendous fatigue and exhaustion
- Chronic muscle patterns
- Sexual dysfunction
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- Vague complaints of aches and pains throughout the body
- Extreme alertness; always on the lookout for warnings of potential danger
- Overwhelming fear
- Obsessive and compulsive behaviors
- Detachment from other people and emotions
- Emotional numbing
- Guilt – especially if one lived while others perished
- Emotional shock
- Panic attacks
Types of Trauma
If you do any google search on types of trauma, you will get an array of different answers. We have expanded our definitions of trauma types over the years. Here is a breakdown:
How Trauma can show up includes:
- Acute Trauma which is a single incident/experience of trauma.
- Chronic Trauma which is repeated or prolonged exposure to a trauma incident/experience.
- Complex (or Developmental) trauma which is both childhood trauma and the long-term effects of trauma throughout the span of time.
Different Trauma Types can include any of the following:
- Natural Disasters
- Community Violence
- Sexual Abuse and/or Assualt
- Intimate Partner Violence
- Medical Trauma/Birth Traumas
- Physical Abuse
- Relational Traumas that can encompass things like neglect, physical or sexual abuse
- Work or Organizational Traumas
- Vicarious Trauma (often seen in First Responders and other helping professionals
- Military Service Traumas
- Religious Traumas
- Cult Traumas
- Racial Trauma or Insidious trauma towards Oppressed and Marginalized groups
Then you can include the impact of Big Trauma/Little Trauma’s discussed earlier. Again its how the individual defines their own experience to that particular incident including their physiological and emotional response.
Benefits of Therapy
Trauma therapy provides a ton of benefits for individuals seeking out healing from their traumatic experiences. Some benefits include:
- Developing a clearer understanding of themselves through psychoeducation
- Establishing or Re-establishing a sense of safety within the world
- Developing resources that help ground and support an individual through challenging emotional moments.
- Identifying coping strategies to support healthier interactions with friends, colleagues, loved ones.
- A decrease in symptoms.
- Developing healthier attachments.
- Developing hope and a better sense of self.
How to Find Therapy for Healing
Trauma therapy can be found in your area by searching specifically for therapists who specialize in therapy for trauma. Therapists should not only be trauma-informed but also have more advanced training to support you in your healing journey.
In conclusion, trauma is a wide-ranging and complex issue that can have serious, long-term impacts on individuals, families, and communities. It is important to understand the causes of trauma in order to be able to identify it and provide appropriate support for those affected. Trauma is something that impacts us all, whether directly or indirectly. For those who have been personally impacted by trauma, it’s important to remember that you are not alone and there is help available.