April 16, 2024

7 Signs we’re Not Dealing with our Trauma.

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Sometimes, the word “trauma” can feel vague and unclear.

But the more we learn about it, the more we might ask ourselves how much trauma we have experienced.

Trauma can be defined as any overwhelmingly negative event that causes a lasting impact on a person’s mental and emotional stability. Some common sources of trauma include: domestic or emotional violence, including bullying; natural disasters; severe illness or injury; the death of a loved one; a near-death experience; or witnessing an act of violence.

My trauma happened when I was 17—I am now 62. I did not get any help afterward, and the severe reactions lasted many years.

When I was in my 30s, I began doing yoga. It helped me quiet my mind, and I was encouraged to feel what I feel, which led to crying uncontrollably, not sleeping, and essentially reliving my trauma in many ways. However, I realize now that I was finally safe enough to actually feel what I was feeling.

I sought counseling and spent 18 months there. During this time, I was able to deal with the feelings I had denied for many years.

Today, I am in a much better place. Do the feelings come back occasionally? Yes. But now it is more of a “wave” that flows over me instead of consuming me.

When we are exposed to or experience a traumatic event (or series of events), our brain rewires itself to respond differently to stress. Below are seven common responses to trauma:

1. Being fearful or anxious is the most common emotional reaction to trauma.

This makes perfect sense because of course we would be afraid of something scary after it has happened. When we feel anxious or fearful after being exposed to a trigger or recalling a memory, that’s just our nervous system working as it should—to protect us from reliving and experiencing those dangers again in the future.

This might mean checking your rearview mirror more often than usual when driving after a car accident. This might mean always looking over your shoulder or scanning your surroundings after being alone in a threatening situation. This is your brain doing its job to protect you by staying on edge.

However, all this energy expenditure can be draining. If you find that you spend a lot of time feeling anxious or scared of specific people, situations, or experiences, getting to the root cause of those feelings can help you overcome them. Do you feel like you’re always on guard? When the nervous system has a terrifying shock, it takes a while to settle back down and stays alert for the possibility of further danger.

2. Anger is another common reaction to trauma.

We might feel angry at the person or situation responsible for that trauma, or we might be angry at ourselves for allowing that trauma to happen (even if we truly were victims in the situation).

3. Many people find themselves feeling emotional extremes after a trauma.

Breaking down crying is often associated with the parasympathetic nervous system and is a way for your body to come down from the fight-or-flight response to stress. Traumatic stress tends to evoke two emotional extremes: too much or too little. You may cry uncontrollably, or you may not cry or feel emotional at aIl.

Feeling numb, disengaged, or unemotional is also a common response to trauma. If you feel as though you struggle to be present and generally feel pessimistic about the future, underlying unaddressed trauma could be to blame.

4. Feeling as though the world is a dangerous place is another trauma response.

If trauma is left undealt with, individuals can fall into patterns of overestimating danger in the world around them. This makes sense because a traumatic event affects our life experience and introduces the perspective that the world is a threatening place to be. With the proper help and over time, as we experience more of life and accept the “good” in the world around us, our beliefs tend to balance out and shift toward the middle, understanding that the world can be both dangerous and safe.

However, if an individual doesn’t take steps to heal from that traumatic event, their fearful perspective can cloud their judgment and negatively impact their quality of life.

5. Guilt is another common response.

It’s normal to feel guilty after something terrible happens to you, as though you’re to blame for the situation in the first place. These thoughts might sound something like:

“If I’d only waited a few more minutes to leave the house.”

“If I’d only called them back.”

“I shouldn’t have been out at that hour.”

“Why wasn’t I more careful?”

“I should have just stayed home.”

“I should have seen this coming.”

Of course, everything is more apparent in hindsight, but replaying these thoughts in our minds and focusing on unnecessary guilt creates more negativity. It is important to learn how to work with your brain instead of against it.

6. Startling easily is an indication of a nervous system that’s temporarily stuck in the “high” setting.

When we’re dealing with “raw” nerves, it is normal to be easily startled by things like a slamming door, loud voices, or any sound or action that’s sudden and unexpected. Going back to that anger, it’s also common to feel anger toward the cause of that startle.

7. Insomnia is also quite common after a trauma.

When you’re sleeping, you’re in a vulnerable state, and when the brain is on high alert (again, just doing its job), it’s not going to want to allow your body to rest and fall asleep. Your brain is basically yelling “Danger!” and sending stress hormones throughout your body, so it’s no wonder you’re suffering from insomnia.

Even if you feel as though you’re finding ways to cope with your insomnia (like using caffeine or other substances), know that your body needs sleep to operate properly. By not allowing your body that time to rest, you’re likely contributing to an unhealthy decline in your body and state of mind.

If you saw yourself in one or more of these reactions and you have been through a trauma, please know there is help and there is hope. Getting the proper counseling is so important after a trauma.


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