Recognising Trauma

The effects of trauma can have a devastating impact on our emotional lives, our ability to work and even to cope with everyday tasks. If we are unlucky enough to witness a major disaster it is widely recognised that as such we may become traumatised and experience long-term after-effects as a result, e.g. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

On the other hand, there are also a huge number of more private events that can equally cause trauma but which invariably go unrecognised. These may be anything from feeling trapped in a controlling, abusive relationship, to feelings of insecurity or abandonment, to being bullied. In short, trauma is anything that creates a sense of fear in us.

One of the difficulties in recognising that trauma is, or has been, experienced is because such private events often become part of ‘normal’ life; they are something we have learnt to live with day in and day out. That we are able to live with them is due to the way our body deals with the trauma, i.e. it goes in to ‘shock’. This is to disconnect our minds from the reality of the threat. In essence, the fight/flight stress response is triggered, creating a heightened physical arousal which enables us to function whilst a threat is present.

However, what it also does is block our awareness of the experiences, and the feelings around them, so that we are unable to experience, or remember, the trauma on any kind of emotional level. With our feelings so effectively blocked, we gradually develop a tolerance for the trauma. 

This creates another difficulty. We simply don’t ‘feel’ the trauma. Nevertheless, the long-term after-effects are no less capable of impacting our lives as those of a major disaster.

The effects of trauma can take any number of forms, but some of the more typical ‘symptoms’ are:

Physical effects

  • Stress-related disorders, e.g. hypertension, digestive difficulties, reduced appetite, nausea, breathing difficulties
  • Sleeplessness, nervousness, compulsive behaviour

Psychological effects

  • A decreased capacity to problem-solve
  • A sense of helplessness and lack of personal control
  • Feelings of dependency
  • Low self-esteem, leading to self-blame
  • Anger
  • PTSD (flashbacks, memory loss, nightmares, numbing, reduced emotion, withdrawal, hyper-vigilance, loneliness)

If you believe you may be experiencing the effects of trauma, one way of beginning to overcome them is through talking. Whether you talk to a trusted friend, a member of your family, or a professional – talking is an important first step towards bringing your body out of ‘shock’ and back into emotional awareness. This will help you to recognise your trauma and thus to work through it.

Counselling Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Caroline Phillips BACP Accredited

Choosing the right counsellor can seem daunting. Your distress will be unique to you as will the path you take to deal with your problems. I am a psychodynamic counsellor, which means I help you to understand the origins of your distress by exploring repeating patterns and making links with your present and past life. Through understanding how negative patterns of behaviour have developed you can … Read more

Written by Caroline Phillips BACP Accredited

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