Trauma and PTSD
What is Trauma and PTSD?
Trauma occurs when you experience a distressing event which leaves you feeling severely emotionally, psychologically, or physically threatened. After an extraordinarily stressful event, your security can be shattered, you may feel helpless, causing extreme stress and overwhelming your ability to cope. The term ‘trauma’ comes from the Greek word for ‘wound’. Very distressing or frightening events can result in a psychological injury or wound. Traumatic experiences usually involve a threat to your sense of safety or even your life, but any situation can be traumatic if it leaves you feeling isolated or overwhelmed, physical harm does not necessarily have to be involved. It is important to realise that trauma is not determined by the actual event, but by your emotional experience of the occurrence. The more you feel helpless and frightened, the more likely you are to be traumatised. Unfortunately, most of us will experience a traumatic event sometime during our life, maybe from neglect or abuse, if a loved one dies suddenly, being a victim of a serious crime, a car accident, exposure to war and/or violence, or a natural disaster. Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting and unsettling emotions, memories and an anxiety that won’t go away. It can also leave you feeling disconnected, numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people. After a traumatic, event survivors must cope with the loss of their sense of safety (at least temporarily). The natural reaction to this loss is grief, and, accordingly, trauma survivors go through a grieving process.
What Causes Trauma?
Traumatic events are usually defined as experiences, which are either life threatening or where there is a significant threat to your physical or psychological wellbeing. They are serious incidents that intrude into daily life.
Psychological trauma can be caused by:
- Acts of violence – random or interpersonal (such as rape, child abuse, or suicide of someone close)
- Natural disasters
- Involvement in a serious accident or illness
An event can be traumatic if:
- You were unprepared or it was unexpectedly
- You felt powerless
- It happened more than once
- It was intentional
- It was a childhood event
These can be: One-off events, such as an accident or violent crime Ongoing stress, such as living in an abusive household or with a serious illness Commonly overlooked causes, such as the sudden death of a loved one or relationship breakdown.
Anyone can experience traumatic events, but you’re more prone to suffer psychological trauma if you are already under stress, have suffered many losses, or have been traumatised before, especially in childhood.
Symptoms of Psychological Trauma
We all react differently to trauma. There isn’t a “right” or “wrong” way to feel, think, or behave. Your responses are normal reactions to abnormal events.
Emotional & psychological symptoms:
- Intrusive thoughts, memories or visions of the event
- Confusion, poor memory or finding it hard to concentrate
- Disorientation, numbness or detachment
- Disbelief, denial or shock
- Anger, irritability or changing moods
- Fear, panic or anxiety
- Guilt, shame or self-blame
- Feeling sad or like there is no hope
Physical & Behavioural symptoms:
- Excessive alertness or being easily startled
- Feeling fatigued or exhausted
- Difficulty sleeping or suffering insomnia or nightmares
- General aches and pain or muscle tension
- Feeling edgy or agitated or having a racing heartbeat
- Avoiding places or activities that remind you of the event
- Social withdrawal
- Losing interest in normal activities
These symptoms are fine as long as they are not too severe or do not last for too long. However, sometimes people have difficulty moving on with their lives. If this is the case, professional counselling can help you find constructive ways to managing these emotions.
When to seek professional assistance
Recovering from trauma takes time. Everyone reacts differently and people heal at their own pace. You should seek professional assistance if your symptoms are too distressing or last for more than a couple of months. These symptoms may include:
- Having trouble functioning at home or work
- Suffering from long lasting fear, anxiety, or depression
- Unable to form close relationships and feeling emotionally numb and disconnected from others
- Increasingly avoiding things that remind you of the trauma
- Experiencing terrifying nightmares, memories, or flashbacks
- Using alcohol or drugs to cope