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 times, they can develop PTSD, or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

When someone suffers from PTSD, their amygdala is hyperactive, and over-reacts to minor disturbances, which then sets off the stress hormones that cause fight-or-flight. When you are constantly living in defense-mode, you can experience trouble sleeping, turbulence in all your relationships in life, and struggle with your own self-worth.


So what do we do?

When you don't address the trauma in your life, it can cause a lot of problems for you. It can undermine relationships and cause tension in your personal and professional life. There are numerous treatment options available, should you need to seek them.

Lifestyle changes: this is the easiest option to consider on the list of treatment plans. Eating healthy, avoiding drugs and alcohol, getting enough sleep and exercise, and seeing loved ones regularly can emphasize your self-care and promote a better lifestyle overall - to help ease the symptoms of trauma.


Therapy: therapy is always a great option to help resolve troubles in your life, but particularly for trauma. Therapy can help you build resilience and coping skills, as well as addressing any unresolved feelings. Exposure therapy and cognitive reappraisal therapy are two common and reliable forms of treatment for PTSD and trauma.

Trauma-informed Care: this form of treatment treats the whole person. It recognizes past traumas and the maladaptive coping mechanisms that someone may have already taken on to work through their struggles.

Trauma-focused Cognitive Behaviors Therapy: is commonly used to handle the destructive effects of early trauma. It has proved particularly useful with youths experience PTSD and Mood Disorders, often resulting from abuse, violence, and unresolved grief.



Psychedelic-Assisted Therapy: Utilizing MDMA (aka Ecstacy, or Molly) has shown promise for treating deep-seated trauma. While under the supervision of a licensed medical professional, PTSD patients are given a dose to help them talk in depth about the disturbing events and traumatic experiences, while learning to control and process their reactivity.


Ketamine (Special K): Ketamine can also be used to expedite recovery. Just like with MDMA therapy, this will be injected under a therapists supervision by a licensed professional, and is utilized to help talk through the trouble.

It is always a good plan to talk through your troubles. If you are noticing that things are getting worse, that your emotions are out of control, that you are scared and the traumas you have experienced have not left your mind, reach out to a professional. There are so many treatment plans that range all the way from at home, to holistic, to medication and therapy - the right plan will be available for you. You deserve to live in peace and not in fear!




Sources:

Staff, P. T. (2022). Trauma. Psychology Today. Retrieved October 14, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/trauma