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Emotional / Psychological Trauma
Trauma Assault >> Emotional And Psychological Trauma

If you’ve gone through a traumatic experience, you may be struggling with painful emotions, frightening memories, or a sense of constant danger that you just can’t kick. Or you may feel numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people. But you can overcome trauma’s paralyzing hold on your present life. With treatment and support, you can heal and move on from psychological and emotional trauma, putting it in the past where it belongs. WHAT IS EMOTIONAL OR PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA?
Trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling frightened and alone can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. Experiences involving betrayal, verbal abuse, or any major loss can be just as traumatizing as a life-threatening catastrophe, especially when they happen during childhood.

Whether the threat is physical or psychological, trauma results when an experience is so overwhelming that you freeze, go numb, or disconnect from what’s happening. While this automatic response protects you from the terror you feel, it also prevents you from moving on. Despite being cut off from your trauma-related feelings, you can’t escape them completely. They remain outside of conscious awareness in all their original intensity, influencing the way you see the world, react to everyday situations, and relate to others.

Not all potentially traumatic events lead to lasting emotional and psychological trauma. Some people rebound quickly from even the most tragic and shocking experiences. Others are devastated by experiences that, on the surface, appear to be less upsetting. It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more endangered, helpless, and unprepared you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.

The types of events that can cause trauma are numerous. Emotional trauma can be caused by single-blow, one-time occurrences, such as a house fire, a plane crash, a violent crime, or an earthquake. Psychological and emotional trauma can also be caused by experiences of ongoing and relentless stress, such as fighting in a war, living in a crime-ridden neighborhood, enduring chronic abuse, or struggling with a life-threatening disease.

Though, people respond differently to stressful experiences, a traumatic event is most likely to cause negative effects if it is:
  • Inflicted by humans
  • Repeated and ongoing
  • Unexpected or unpredictable
  • Sadistic or intentionally cruel
  • Experienced in childhood

People are also more likely to be traumatized as adults if they have a history of childhood trauma or if they’re already under a heavy stress load.

Emotional or psychological trauma results from experiences that make you feel:
  • Terrified
  • Helpless
  • Unprepared
  • Alone

Attachment or developmental trauma
Stressful experiences in childhood—whether a one-time event such as a car accident or an ongoing situation caused by an unavailable or abusive parent—can be traumatizing. Childhood trauma, known as attachment or developmental trauma, results from anything that disrupts a child’s sense of safety and security. This includes such things as an unstable or unsafe environment, separation from a parent, or a serious illness. Attachment trauma is most severe, however, when it involves betrayal or harm at the hands of a caregiver.

Attachment trauma has a negative impact on a child’s physical, emotional, cognitive, and social development. Children who have been traumatized see the world as a frightening and dangerous place. When childhood trauma is not resolved, this fundamental sense of fear and helplessness can carry over into adulthood, setting the stage for further trauma.

How childhood trauma affects adult relationships
The quality of the attachment bond between mother and baby affects the child’s ability—even as an adult—to feel safe in the world, trust others, handle stress, and rebound from disappointment. Early-life trauma disrupts this important attachment bond, resulting in adult relationship difficulties.

Read: Attachment and Adult Relationships

When it comes to recognizing psychological and emotional trauma, it’s important to distinguish between normal reactions to traumatic events and symptoms of a more serious and persistent problem.

Following a traumatic event, most people experience a variety of emotions, including shock, fear, anger, and relief to be alive. Often, they can think or talk of little else other than what happened. Many others feel jumpy, detached, or depressed. Such reactions are neither a sign of weakness nor a positive indicator of lasting trouble. Rather, they represent a normal response to an abnormal event.

Common reactions to trauma:
  • Guilt and self-blame
  • Anxiety and edginess
  • Mood swings and irritability
  • Feeling disconnected or numb
  • Distressing memories about the event
  • Insomnia or bad dreams
  • Withdrawing from others
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling sad or hopeless

These symptoms and feelings typically last from a few days to a few months, gradually fading as you process the trauma. But even when you’re feeling better, you may be troubled from time to time by painful memories or emotions—especially in response to triggers such as an anniversary of the event or an image, sound, or situation that reminds you of the traumatic experience.

Grieving is normal following a traumatic event
Whether or not a traumatic event involves death or physical harm, survivors must cope with the loss, at least temporarily, of their sense of safety and security. The natural reaction to this loss is grief. Like people who have lost a loved one, trauma survivors go through a grieving process. This process, while inherently painful, is easier if you turn to others for support, take care of yourself, and talk about how you feel.

Read: Coping with Grief and Loss

Recovering from a traumatic event takes time, and everyone heals at his or her own pace. But if months have passed and your symptoms aren’t letting up, you may be experiencing emotional or psychological trauma.

When to seek professional help
It’s a good idea to seek professional help from a therapist or doctor if you’re:
  • Having problems at home or work
  • Living in constant fear and anxiety
  • Haunted by overwhelming memories or emotions
  • Avoiding more and more things that remind you of the trauma
Recognizing psychological and emotional trauma may be difficult, especially if the traumatic event occurred in your childhood. Further complicating the picture, the signs and symptoms of unresolved emotional trauma are often mistaken for other metal health problems, including depression and anxiety.

Unfortunately, antidepressants, anxiety medications, and other conventional therapies and treatments won’t heal trauma-induced wounds, so it’s important to get to the root of the symptoms.

Is Emotional Trauma a Factor in Your Life?
Respond yes or no to the following to determine if you might be living with the aftermath of a traumatic event:
  • Can you stand to be alone without turning on your cell phone, computer, or TV?
  • Do you rely on coffee, cigarettes, or alcohol to lift and/or calm you?
  • Are you plagued by physical conditions for which there appear to be no cures?
  • Do you “lose it” with certain people or in certain situations?
  • Do you avoid things you wish you could do?
  • Do you have to be accomplishing something in order to feel good?
  • Do you frequently behave in ways that you regret?
  • Do you suffer from mysterious ailments that come and go?
  • Do you find it impossible to focus on some things for more than a time?
  • Is it hard for you to trust people?
  • Do you feel depressed or anxious although you have tried conventional treatments?
  • Is it difficult for you to commit to a relationship?
If you answered “yes” to 3 or more questions, you might be suffering from emotional trauma.

Source: Emotional Intelligence by Jeanne Segal

While the potential signs and symptoms of unresolved emotional trauma are numerous, the most common indicators include:
  • Emotional numbness and detachment
  • Inability to form close, satisfying relationships
  • Sense of the world as a cold and dangerous place
  • Hair trigger stress response (dizziness, pounding heart, nausea)
  • Disturbing memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
  • Sense of a foreshortened, limited future
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is the most severe form of trauma. Its primary symptoms include intrusive memories or flashbacks, avoiding things that remind you of the traumatic event, and living in a constant state of “red alert”.

Read: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

In order to heal from psychological and emotional trauma, you must face and resolve the unbearable feelings and memories you’ve long avoided. Otherwise they will return again and again, unbidden and uncontrollable. The healing journey involves two interrelated steps:

1. Processing the memory of the trauma
2. Discharging pent-up “fight-or-flight” energy

Working through trauma can be scary, painful, and potentially retraumatizing. Because of the risk of retraumatization, this healing work is best done with the help of an experienced trauma specialist.

Processing the memory of the trauma
Traumatic memories are very different from normal memories. Extreme stress functions like a pause button on your brain, preventing you from integrating your experience into a coherent memory of what happened. Without a “story” that you can revisit and interpret, it’s impossible to put the experience in the past.

As a result, traumatic memories are relived rather than simply remembered. They may exist only in split-off fragments—raw emotions, bodily sensations, frightening images, smells and sounds, physical pain—that feel just as real as they did during the original trauma. Reconnecting to these emotional fragments allows you to process the memory and put it in perspective at long last.

Discharging fight-or-flight energy
When confronted with a threat, your body instantly prepares for emergency action in an automatic, biological process known as the fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight response gives you extra energy to either fight or escape the threat. Once the danger passes, you gradually return to a relaxed and normal state.

But when a threat is so overwhelming that survival seems impossible, the natural response is to freeze. This frozen state of shock traps the intense energies of the fight-or-flight response in the body. In essence, your nervous system gets stuck in overdrive.

The symptoms of trauma are the result of your body’s attempts to control this pent-up energy. To heal from trauma, this excess energy must be discharged in a physical way, such as:
  • Trembling
  • Shaking
  • Crying
  • Sweating
  • Breathing deeply
  • Laughing
Melinda Smith, M.A., Jaelline Jaffe, Ph.D., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. contributed to this article. Last modified on: 1/29/08

Reprinted with permission from http://www.helpguide.org/. C 2008 Helpguide.org. All rights reserved.

You can find the original article at

SOURCE: www.helpguide.org

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