When our bodies experience a serious physical injury, such as loss of a limb, the crushing effects of a car crash, or exposure to extreme weather conditions, they undergo trauma. We go into shock and our bodily systems struggle to function so that we may survive. Similarly, our emotional and psychological wellbeing, our psyches, can be injured when we experience an extremely stressful or life-threatening occurrence. We can lose our ability to cope with the stresses in our lives because we are completely overwhelmed by what we have experienced.
Experiences that may lead to psychological trauma include being the victim of or witness to violence or sexual abuse, experiencing a significant loss, going through a catastrophic situation such as an earthquake or war, or long-term exposure to extreme poverty, abuse, or other negative conditions. As Esther Giller, says, “Trauma is defined by the experience of the survivor.” What is traumatic to one individual may not be traumatic to another.
What are the effects of trauma?
The following are common symptoms of psychological trauma:
- re-experiencing the trauma through memories, flashbacks or disturbing dreams
- being jumpy, easily startled, and constantly alert or on guard
- feeling angry (due to a sense of vulnerability)
- feeling emotionally detached or numb; being unable to feel anything
- losing confidence and self-esteem
- feeling hopeless and powerless
- feeling depressed
- turning to drugs/alcohol in an effort to escape feelings
What is the treatment for trauma?
Just as it takes time for the body to recover from physical injury, healing from psychological trauma is a process. The disturbing memories and symptoms won’t disappear over night. However, with time, support, and a process of healing, victims of trauma can recover their ability to cope and regain their trust in themselves and the world.
A key part of healing from trauma is finding a safe place to tell your story. Reach out to your personal support network and find people who will listen with compassion and understanding.
If you feel that trauma symptoms are affecting your work, family relationships, or other aspects of your life, you may need to seek additional support from a trained mental healthcare professional. A therapist can support you as you tell your story and try to make meaning of it. He or she can help you to learn skills to cope with your stress symptoms. Over time, you will build trust with your therapist and eventually be able to reconnect with yourself and other people.