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Trauma and How It Affects Us

Trauma can affect anyone, at any time. Traditionally, it is caused by circumstances out of our control, and can flare up and cause problems throughout the remainder of your life if you leave your troubles untreated.

Trauma is defined as a person's emotional response to an extremely distressing or disturbing experience. It is extremely uncommon for someone to go through their entire life without experiencing some form of trauma, but unlike ordinary hardships, traumatic events tend to be sudden, and totally unpredictable. Beyond being often times a surprise to occur to you, these events also undermine a person's ability to process their surroundings, and to feel safe. This can create a sense that catastrophe can strike at any time, and that everything is beyond their control.

There are a handful of different types of trauma that can affect an individual:

Acute trauma: acute trauma describes the intense distress occurring directly after a traumatic experience. This could be the aftermath of a car crash, assault of any kind, or the death of a loved one.

Chronic trauma: chronic trauma can come from harmful events that are repetitive, or continuous throughout many years. Bullying, neglect, abuse (sexual, physical, emotional), and domestic violence make up a large portion of sufferers from this type of trauma.

Complex trauma: Complex trauma comes from experiences repeated, or multiple, traumatic events where there is no escape. The overwhelming feeling of 'being trapped' is a key component to the experience. Similar to other types of trauma, it causes the removal of a person's sense of safety, and cause for constant and exhausting hypervigilance - always scanning for a threat.

Secondary or Vicious trauma: this comes from exposure to the suffering of other people. It is often found in first responders, law enforcement, and physicians. Over time, this can lead these people to experience compassion fatigue, where they no longer invest emotionally in others to keep themselves from experiencing distress.

Adverse Childhood Experiences: ACE covers a wide range of experiences, all occurring to a child before they have aged enough to develop coping skills. Often times the loss of a parent at an early age, neglect, physical/emotional/sexual abuse, or divorce are top on the list of common experiences.

Effects of Trauma

To understand how trauma effects us, we have to understand what happens in the first place. Disturbing/traumatic events active the amygdala - the part of your brain built for detecting threats. The amygdala then sends out an alarm to multiple body systems to prepare your body to defend itself. Your sympathetic nervous system kicks on, and releases adrenaline and noradrenaline (stress hormones) to prepare you for fight-or-flight. Short term fear, anxiety, aggression, shock, and anger are all very common, and normal, responses to trauma. These negative feelings will dissipate as the crisis does and everything fades to memory, but for some people those feelings will linger and will affect their day to day life.

Long term sufferers can develop emotional disturbances, such as extreme anger, anxiety, dissociation, sadness, stress, survivor's guilt, and the inability to feel pleasure. Often tim