Updated: Nov 13
Trauma is a term that is typically associated with major life impacting experiences, such as, sexual, physical, verbal, and emotional abuse. Trauma is nothing more than our emotional response to a horrible experience. Trauma can also be subjective. What's traumatic for you may be amusing for someone else. Take for example, you were embarrassed back in middle school when a classmate "pantsed" you, and now you're deathly afraid to undress in front of anyone, including your spouse. To most teenage boys, something like this would be quite hilarious, but that may not be the case for you. You may spend the next couple of years struggling through adolescence and adulthood with feelings of inferiority, insecurity, and body image issues. This poor middle schooler would have been traumatized by this experience. Immediately following a traumatic experience, the typical responses are shock and denial. What makes trauma very unique than many of the other mental health disorders, is that until it is properly processed, it will continue to keep a mental and physical log of your entire traumatic experience. When a traumatic experience takes place, it can get stored in the brain. The brain can store all of the original feelings, thoughts, sounds, and pictures that are associated with that trauma. After the traumatic experience gets locked in the brain, certain reminders of that trauma may start to trigger you. There are feelings that will arise when feeling triggered, such as, fear, hopelessness, and even helplessness. (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures, 2017).
A traumatic experience can leave one feeling stuck in life. Some real life examples of this is always feeling fearful, easily triggered, struggling with intrusive thoughts as if something terribly wrong is about to happen, and always believing the worst about others (mistrust) and yourself (negative core belief). One of the major outcomes of traumatic experiences is post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There's this major misconception that only war veterans suffer with symptoms of PTSD. That is so far from the truth. Granted, war veterans make up for a higher number of patients that have been diagnosed with PTSD, usually after a deployment. The average person who has never served their country could fly under the radar from ever getting a proper diagnosis, especially if they've never carved out the time to speak with a mental health professional. Examples of everyday people who may struggle with PTSD symptoms are as follows: rape victims, witnessing the occurrence of a violent attack or death of someone, the full scale aftermath following a natural disaster, domestic violence survivors, emotionally abusive family members and friends, abused children, and watching social media videos of people dying in public. All of these are examples of people who have been traumatized, and the sad truth is, unless there's someone within their circle of influence to point that out to them, they may be totally unaware of this.
Another element of traumatic exposure is vicarious trauma. This is when counselors experience some of their client's trauma from hearing their trauma stories. Therapists may empathize with their clients on so deep a level that they begin to take on some of their pain, terror, and fear that they've had to live with. As counselors begin to experience this new found emotional tension, it can take quite a toll on them. One of the signs that a therapist is grappling with vicarious trauma, is their noticeable PTSD symptoms of feeling afraid, hopeless, constantly thinking about their client's traumatic stories, and struggling to speak with their clients about their traumatic ordeal. Vicarious trauma must be handled in the same manner as when a client walks in to see their therapist. There are a lot of helpful approaches out there to assist someone who may be struggling with unresolved trauma. Speaking to a mental health professional is a great way to help lay the ground work in choosing which type of treatment approach would best fit a client. There's not a one size fits all approach when working through traumatic experiences, but attempting to get help is lot more conducive than secretly struggling with your symptoms on your own. Could it be that your ongoing struggles with anxiety and depression is nothing more than unresolved trauma that refuses to give you any relief until you're ready to deal with it? Trauma doesn't disappear over time; the only way to move past it is to face it head on. Get help today. It's not too late!
Shapiro, F. (2017). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy: Basic principles, protocols and procedures. (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
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