Trauma & PTSD
“Trauma creates change you don’t choose. Healing is about creating change you do choose.”
The word ‘trauma’ is often misunderstood- many people believe that someone must have gone through an extremely scary or life-threatening situation in order for it to have been traumatic. However, as we learn more about ourselves and how our brains work we have realized that this is not the case. Many things that happen in life can be traumatic. Let’s take a look at the actual definition of the word ‘trauma’:
“An emotional upset.”(Merriam-Webster)
“Profound disappointment, betrayal, abuse.” (Google Dictionary)
“An experience that produces psychological injury or pain.” (Dictionary.com)
“A deeply distressing or disturbing experience.” (Oxford Dictionaries)
“Experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” (SAMHSA)
“Psychological or emotional injury caused by a disturbing experience.”
These definitions are all getting at the concept that if something happens in your life that affects you in an emotionally big way then that could be considered a traumatic experience. Such experiences can range from your dad telling you that you can’t do anything right, to being fired from a job, to witnessing an accident, to being raped.
The take away is that things happen throughout all of our lives and we have all experienced ‘traumas’. If those experiences seem to still affect you today then you are not alone and are one of many others who are going through something very similar and wishing that it would go away.
PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and is the term used to describe a set of symptoms that can come from having gone through a trauma. Now, let’s think about this term …
‘Post’ = after
‘Traumatic’ = something distressing or upsetting
‘Stress’ = need I explain that one?
‘Disorder’ = a disturbance in mental health functions
This is describing the stress that disrupts your life after you’ve experienced something particularly upsetting. It has been most commonly referenced relating to war veterans, however, it can result from a plethora of experiences that one does not have to have been to war to understand.
If you have ever wondered why things from your past are still affecting you then please know that there are neurological reasons for this, it’s not just you, and it’s fixable.
When we go through a distressing situation our brain catapults us into a ‘fight-flight-or freeze’ response in attempt to keep us safe. Once the danger (emotional or physical) is gone our brain typically readjusts to the current moment, lets its guard down and allows us to continue our daily lives. However, sometimes, our brains malfunction causing these events to get stuck in our brains continuing to affect us even after the danger has passed. We may feel the same as we did in that traumatic moment long after the event passes, keeping us feeling ‘trapped’ or ‘locked’ in that memory. Many people have heard of flashbacks but not as many know that they can come in the form of emotions and body sensations not just images. We can hear, see, smell, or experience something that taps into those ‘trapped’ memories and we suddenly feel the emotions from the past right here in the present moment. This often comes out in what may seem like an exaggerated response to others while feeling intense to us.
Here is a list of common symptoms that people experience after they have gone through a traumatic experience: (please note that this list is long and can be overwhelming but remember, these do not have to permanent, that’s where I come in.)
- New fears/worries
- Frustration with ongoing symptoms
- Emotional Overwhelm
- Depression or sadness
- Shame & Worthlessness
- Helplessness or powerless
- Feelings of guilt for having not suffered as much as others
- Emotional numbness (like being ‘in a daze’ or having a ‘it doesn’t matter’ attitude)
- Panic Attacks
- Recurrent anxiety over your safety or the safety of a loved one
- Increased stress/anxiety in general
- Increased fear related to situations similar to the event
View of Yourself
- Feeling like a ‘bad’ person
- Unrelenting self-criticism for things done or not done during the event
- Feeling different now, to yourself and to society
- Feeling especially ‘alone’ (often thinking ‘they weren’t there’, ‘they can’t understand’)
- Embarrassment of having symptoms (often wondering how others get through this or why you can’t seem to ‘just get over it’)
- Loss of sense of self
- Confusion about why you feel the way you do
- Low self-esteem
- Self-Destructive Behaviors
- Being 'on edge' in non-threatening situations
- Loss of Interest
- An unusual feeling of being easily startled
- Avoiding and feeling anxious about things that remind you of the event
- Poor Judgment
- Substance Abuse/Eating Disorders- using drugs, alcohol, or food in attempt to soothe/avoid the feelings
- Excessive Shopping or gambling- also in attempt to soothe/avoid the feelings
- Decreased Concentration
Sleep & Pain Intrusions
- Insomnia/ Difficulty sleeping or staying asleep
- Flashbacks/Intrusive Memories (seeing images from the past, hearing sounds, or even feeling emotions or physical sensations from when it happened)
- Chronic Pain/Headaches
- Chronic Illnesses (fibromyalgia, IBS, heart disease, etc.)
- Difficulty in feeling intimate in your relationship
- Defensiveness around the topic of your trauma (even indirectly)
- Increased overall frustration
- Anger- Outbursts, sometimes without apparent reason
- Family or work conflicts that didn’t typically happen before the trauma
If you relate to these symptoms then you’ve probably noticed how they can impact your relationships with the people you love, the people you want to love, and even the people you have yet to meet. Getting the past off your chest, cleaning out the attic if you will, can make your day-to-day life more enjoyable for you and the people spend your time around.
Ok, I’ve been through a trauma, can I really be helped?
Believe it or not, healing from this is very possible. There are various types of therapy out there to treat PTSD and symptoms of trauma, personally, I lean towards EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing) because of how effective it is. Through research and through experiences that both myself and my clients have gone through, I know that it can reduce the symptoms and potentially completely eliminate the PTSD symptoms.
I’ve had clients describe their response to treatment as, “I couldn’t even think about it before, but now it’s just a memory with no reaction to it”, and, “It’s there but it’s not controlling me anymore, it has no strength.”
‘Stuff’ from days, years or even decades ago can impact your day to day more than you might think, the freedom that comes from clearing out those memories is invaluable. I would love to be able to walk you through the process of healing the past.
If you’d like to learn more about this process, you will likely find answers below: