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The Lasting Effects of Trauma
When something bad happens – whether it’s a bad day at work or someone cutting us off in traffic or an argument with a family member or friend – many of us initially react by wanting to reach out and tell someone about our experience. We may do it looking for sympathy or for help resolving the issue.
However, after a traumatic event – whether it’s a natural disaster or experiencing abuse or violence or the death of a loved one – the exact opposite is often the case. Many trauma survivors either wait an incredibly long time before opening up to anyone else about their experiences, if they ever do.
There are multiple reasons for this, some of which may include feelings of guilt, shame, or being seen as a “victim.”
But, regardless of the reasons people choose not to share or disclose their trauma with others, traumatic events themselves, and especially the lack of talking about and working through the pain of trauma can lead to some pretty serious consequences.
How People Respond to Trauma
Without getting into all of the possible causes of trauma, trauma can be quickly defined as any overwhelming event that causes a negative and lasting impact on a person’s mental and emotional stability.
Due to their shocking and overwhelming nature, our minds and bodies are often unable to process traumatic events the way we do other experiences. They remain separate parts of ourselves that, if left unaddressed, can take on unconscious lives of their own.
Unfortunately, people respond to trauma in a variety of ways and it’s not always easy to tell if or how much a person is suffering.
For example, while many trauma survivors may exhibit signs of anxiety that can manifest as sleeplessness, nightmares, mood swings, irritability, and a lack of concentration, others will show none of these symptoms. In fact, the effects of trauma can take days, months, or even years to manifest.
Fortunately, most survivors’ immediate reactions typically resolve themselves without severe long-term consequences thanks to an individual’s own resilience, effective coping strategies, and social support.
But, for more than a few that’s not the case. These survivors continue to experience the effects of a trauma long after the incident itself has passed, often affecting their functioning, relationships, and overall quality of life.
So, just what are the longer-term effects of trauma?
Trauma’s Long-Term Emotional Toll…
The emotions most commonly arising from a traumatic event include sadness, fear, shame, and anger, and traumatic events tend to evoke one of two emotional extremes: either feeling too much of these and other similar emotions (overwhelmed), or too little (numb).
Those who feel overwhelmed typically have difficulty regulating emotions such as anxiety and anger or they may experience what is commonly referred to as “hyperarousal” or “hypervigilance” – which basically means they remain overly alert to the possibilities of danger long after the trauma has passed. These individuals may be easily startled, panicky, agitated, irritable, moody, or have difficulties sleeping or concentrating.
Unfortunately, those who fall on the “overwhelmed” end of the spectrum often turn to alcohol, drugs, or other substances, compulsive behaviors, disordered eating, or repress or deny their emotions altogether in an attempt to self-regulate and regain control.
On the other end of the spectrum, many who’ve experienced unresolved traumas become emotionally “numb.” They become emotionally detached, not only from the memories of the trauma, but from their relationships and life in general.
Of course, people suffering on either end of this emotional spectrum – or, for that matter, anywhere along the continuum – can experience severe problems, both personally and professionally.
These issues can affect one’s ability to perform professionally, whether because they’re unable to concentrate and focus on the tasks at hand or control their emotions enough to stay employed or be promoted.
And, they’re just as likely to have a negative impact on one’s personal relationships, regardless of whether one is unable to control their emotional states or is withdrawn, depressed, avoidant, or hopeless.
To make matters worse, these individuals may minimize, or even have forgotten the traumatic event ever occurred. In fact, in my work as a psychotherapist, it is not at all uncommon for someone to seek my professional help with one or more of these traumatic effects (anger management issues, for example, or feelings of depression and hopelessness), only to uncover the traumatic roots of these issues during the course of psychotherapy.
And, for each person who does seek help, there are likely countless others who do not, either because they don’t recognize these symptoms as being trauma-related or because they don’t believe they’re treatable.
But, make no mistake about it, the effects of trauma are treatable, and anyone can learn to work through and resolve the underlying traumatic experiences that lead to them.
Professional counseling and psychotherapy can help you acknowledge, process, and integrate any traumatic experience you’ve had. And, it is this integration that allows the traumatic memory to function like the rest of your memories do… as a part of your past, not your present or future.
So, if you or someone you know is exhibiting any of the effects of trauma, I highly encourage you to seek professional help. Counseling and psychotherapy can help you understand what happened, how it’s affected you, learn coping skills, restore a sense of self-empowerment, and get you moving forward again in your relationships and in your life!
Please feel free to contact me with your questions or to schedule a free consultation. I may be reached by phone at 650-634-9821, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
I provide my services to the highest ethical standards and my relationships with my clients are strictly confidential. As such, I must inform you that the information provided in this website is offered for informational purposes only; it is not offered as and does not constitute professional advice. Replies to e-mail messages will be general in nature and will not form a therapist-client relationship. Be aware that the confidentiality of information sent over the Internet, including e-mail, may not be legally or otherwise protected or secure.