May 25, 2023

Understanding Trauma

Experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event can have lasting consequences on a person's mental health and daily functioning. However, recognizing the signs and symptoms of trauma is the first step toward recovery. It's important to understand that trauma is a personal experience, and what may be traumatic for one person may not be for another.

What Is Emotional and Psychological Trauma?

Emotional and psychological trauma can be a very complex and difficult experience to deal with. It is a response to extraordinarily stressful events that can shatter your sense of safety and make you feel helpless in the world. When you experience trauma, it can cause you to struggle with a range of upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that can linger long after the event has passed.

Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but it’s important to understand that any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. What’s most important to recognize is that it’s not the objective circumstances of the event that determine whether it’s traumatic, but rather your subjective emotional experience of the event. This means that the more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.

What Causes Trauma?

Everyone's experience of trauma is different, and what may be traumatic for one person may not be traumatic for another. Additionally, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop trauma-related symptoms.

That being said, there are certain factors that can increase the likelihood of experiencing trauma, including a history of previous trauma, a lack of social support, preexisting mental health conditions, and certain personality traits, such as a tendency towards anxiety or depression. It's also important to note that certain populations, such as children, military personnel, and survivors of sexual assault, are at a higher risk of experiencing trauma.

Ultimately, trauma is caused by an event or situation that overwhelms your ability to cope and leaves you feeling helpless or powerless. This can lead to a range of physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms, which can persist long after the event has passed.

Symptoms Of Psychological Trauma

Psychological trauma can affect an individual in various ways, including physical, mental, emotional, and social symptoms. Here are some common symptoms of psychological trauma:

Physical symptoms:

  • Fatigue and exhaustion.
  • Insomnia or other sleep disorders.
  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
  • Chronic pain or muscle tension.
  • Headaches or migraines.
  • Gastrointestinal problems such as nausea, diarrhea, or constipation.
  • Changes in appetite and eating habits.
  • Rapid heartbeat, sweating, or shaking.
  • Hypervigilance or feeling on edge.
  • A weakened immune system leading to frequent illnesses.

Mental symptoms:

  • Difficulty making decisions or solving problems.
  • Feeling overwhelmed, out of control, or hopeless.
  • Avoiding thoughts or reminders of the traumatic event.
  • Experiencing flashbacks or intrusive thoughts.
  • Feeling detached from reality or disoriented.
  • Having negative beliefs about oneself or the world.
  • Difficulty regulating emotions, such as anger, sadness, or anxiety.
  • Feeling emotionally numb or disconnected from others.
  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior.

Emotional symptoms:

  • Feeling depressed or anxious.
  • Irritability or mood swings.
  • Shame or guilt.
  • Fear or anxiety about the future.
  • Emotional outbursts or feeling on edge.
  • Feelings of helplessness or worthlessness.
  • Loss of interest in enjoyable activities.
  • Difficulty forming or maintaining close relationships.
  • Difficulty regulating emotions, such as anger, sadness, or anxiety.
  • Feeling emotionally numb or disconnected from others.

Social symptoms:

  • Avoiding social situations or isolating oneself.
  • Difficulty trusting others or forming close relationships.
  • Struggling to communicate or connect with others.
  • Feeling like an outsider or disconnected from one's community.
  • Difficulty in maintaining a job or meeting responsibilities.
  • Substance abuse or other destructive coping mechanisms.

It's important to understand that there's no single "correct" or "incorrect" way to think, feel, or react, so it's best not to pass judgment on yourself or others. It's normal to have these reactions to abnormal events. Your responses are normal reactions to abnormal events.

How Long Do Trauma Symptoms Last?

Psychological trauma symptoms may last for a few days to several months, gradually subsiding as you come to terms with the unsettling event. However, painful memories or emotions may still resurface from time to time, particularly triggered by reminders or anniversaries of the trauma.

If your symptoms persist or worsen, and you find yourself unable to move forward for an extended period, you may be experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While emotional trauma is a normal response to a distressing event, it becomes PTSD when your nervous system becomes "stuck" in a state of psychological shock, leaving you unable to process your emotions or make sense of the experience.

Healing From Trauma

Healing from trauma can be a long and challenging journey, but it is possible. The first step towards recovery is to acknowledge that you have experienced trauma and that it has had a profound impact on your life. Trauma can leave you feeling helpless and overwhelmed, but with the right tools and support, you can learn to heal and move forward.

The healing process begins with self-care. Taking care of yourself both physically and emotionally is essential for recovery. This means getting enough sleep, eating well, exercising regularly, and engaging in activities that you enjoy. It also means being kind to yourself and practicing self-compassion. Treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding that you would offer to a friend who has gone through a difficult time.

Another important step in healing from trauma is to seek professional help. Trauma can be a complex issue, and it can be difficult to work through it on your own. A trained therapist can help you understand and process your feelings, identify triggers, and develop coping strategies. There are a variety of therapeutic approaches that can be effective for trauma, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and somatic experiencing.

In addition to therapy, there are other types of support that can be beneficial for healing from trauma. Support groups provide a safe and supportive space to share your experiences and connect with others who have been through similar situations. These groups can also provide a sense of validation and help you feel less alone in your healing journey.

Mindfulness practices such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can also be helpful for trauma recovery. These practices can help you learn to regulate your emotions and manage stress, which can be especially important for those who have experienced trauma. Mindfulness can also help you develop a greater sense of self-awareness and self-compassion.

It's important to remember that healing from trauma is not a linear process. There will be ups and downs, and setbacks are normal. It's important to be patient with yourself and to allow yourself the time and space to heal. It's also important to celebrate small victories along the way. 

Every step forward, no matter how small, is a step towards healing and recovery.

More Resources About Trauma

Looking for more support and guidance with trauma? These resources can help.

The Sidran Institute: This organization is dedicated to the understanding, treatment, and prevention of traumatic stress disorders. They provide free resources for individuals who have experienced trauma, including educational materials, support groups, and online resources. Their website is

National Center for PTSD: This organization is dedicated to research and education on the prevention, understanding, and treatment of PTSD. They provide free resources for individuals who have experienced trauma, including self-help tools and support groups. Their website is

RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network): This organization is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the United States. They provide free resources for individuals who have experienced sexual violence, including a 24/7 hotline, chat service, and online resources. Their website is

The National Domestic Violence Hotline: This organization provides free, confidential support for individuals who have experienced domestic violence, including emotional abuse, physical violence, and sexual assault. They offer a 24/7 hotline and online resources. Their website is

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