Trauma refers to an emotional and psychological response to a distressing or disturbing event or series of events that exceeds an individual's ability to cope with or process the experience. Traumatic events can lead to a range of physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, flashbacks, substance use, avoidance behaviour and insomnia, that can impact an individual's overall well-being and quality of life.
While trauma affects us adversely, the degree and extent of it varies in that different individuals may experience trauma differently and may respond to traumatic events in different ways. Some people may develop symptoms immediately following the event, while others may not experience symptoms until months or even years later. Trauma can be a one-time event, a prolonged event or a series of events.
Some common psychological effects of trauma include:
Anxiety and fear: Trauma can lead to persistent feelings of fear and anxiety, which can make it difficult to feel safe and secure.
Depression: Trauma can trigger feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and helplessness, which can lead to depression.
Hypervigilance: Trauma can cause a heightened sense of awareness and hypervigilance, which can lead to difficulty relaxing or sleeping.
Flashbacks and nightmares: Trauma can lead to intrusive memories, flashbacks, and nightmares, which can be distressing and interfere with daily life.
Avoidance: Trauma can lead to avoidance of certain people, places, or activities that remind the individual of the trauma, which can limit their ability to engage in meaningful activities.
Dissociation: Trauma can lead to feelings of detachment and dissociation, which can create a sense of disconnection from oneself or others.
Self-blame and shame: Trauma can lead to feelings of guilt, shame, and self-blame, which can impact self-esteem and relationships with others.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Traumatic events throw our brain into self-defence mode which leads to production of high levels of the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline. This response helps us detect, avoid, and defend ourselves from perceived danger – emotional or physical. But it is supposed to turn off when the danger has passed. Unfortunately for some, the brain gets stuck and stays in self-defence mode and they develop what is referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events or experiences that occur during childhood and can have a negative impact on a person's psychological development. ACEs include incessant bullying, parental separation or divorce, loss of a loved one, emotional or physical neglect or abuse and parental mental or physical illness. There is a correlation between ACEs and mental health issues later in life. Research has consistently shown that individuals who experience ACEs are at a higher risk for developing depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), behavioural addictions and personality disorders.
Trauma counselling can be helpful for individuals who are struggling with symptoms related to trauma, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Regardless of the nature of the traumatic event, it is important for individuals to seek help if they are experiencing symptoms related to trauma. Trauma counselling, which is a form of therapy designed to help individuals who have experienced trauma, can be highly effective in helping individuals process their experiences, develop coping skills, and move forward from the trauma.
While many people understandably struggle with negative consequences after experiencing trauma, some individuals are able to find new opportunities for personal growth, increased resilience, and greater appreciation for life, referred to as Post Traumatic Growth (PTG), and therapy can play a vital role in facilitating this. PTG refers to the positive psychological changes that can occur as a result of experiencing a traumatic event. PTG can involve a range of experiences, such as increased personal strength, deeper relationships with others, and a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life. It is important to note that PTG is not the same as simply bouncing back to one's pre-trauma state, but rather involves a significant transformation that can lead to a more fulfilling and meaningful life.