There are many types of trauma. In the broadest terms, trauma is anything that diminishes our sense of safety and security in this world. Trauma can be defined as a psychological and/or emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. When loosely applied, this trauma definition can refer to something upsetting, such as being involved in an accident, having an illness or injury, loss of a loved one, or going through a divorce.
Trauma can also encompass a number of experiences, ranging from childhood to the culmination of dealing with stressful issues in which on does not feel safe, such as negative interactions with family or work to events that are severely damaging such as rape and other types of abuse that elicit feelings of guilt and shame and impact our sense of vulnerability.
Each of us experiences trauma in different ways and cope with it on a number of levels. An individual experiencing trauma can become overwhelmed at the time of the event that they learn to become reactive to situations that trigger such emotions, or they might experience the opposite feeling of being numb and appear unhappy or detached. These are just a couple of examples of how we might express internal feelings of distress and lack of safety in the world.
One thing to know about trauma is that it is physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and behavioral. We often hold trauma in our body and in our cells, which can lead to ongoing distress, physical symptoms, possibly even autoimmune disorders, migraines, and anxiety. We can also hold trauma in our emotions, which can lead to depression, fear, and social withdrawal or isolation from others. When we hold trauma in our minds, it can lead to a projection of distrust and lack of safety with others and future prediction of hurt.
Traumatic experiences can lead to difficulty connecting with others, with attunement to self, with the ability to trust, with the ability to become autonomous and independent, and with the ability to connect intimately with others.
It is common to see shock and denial as typical reactions to a traumatic event. These reactions can fade over time, but a survivor can also experience long-term effects such as:
- Anger and/or irritability
- Ongoing feelings of sadness and despair
- Emotional numbness
- Unpredictable reactions
- Physical symptoms, like nausea and headaches
- Intense feelings of guilt or shame
- Difficulty maintaining close relationships
- Feelings of isolation and hopelessness
Trauma and trauma-related experiences impact our sense of safety and trust. The very nature of these experiences can impact our relationships and intimacy. More importantly, therapy can help you regain a sense of control over your life. Therapy is a means to helping us develop coping skills surrounding the symptoms of the trauma and further helps us to develop a new story to help process the associated thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that have potentially sheltered us from living the life we wish to lead. By exploring our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in a caring and supportive environment, we can look at life through a new lens that facilitates long-term growth and understanding of the trauma to help us better maintain positive relationships in the present and future.