You may have experienced trauma, your friend or relative could have or maybe you’re just curious in the science behind trauma; so I’m here to explain everything you need to know.
What is trauma?
Trauma is any experience that is deeply distressing and/or disturbing. The severity of the experience can damage the person in question psychologically and physically. This can be because someone can not cope with the situation, is overwhelmed or experiences an extraordinary amount of stress.
Some events that can trigger this are:
- Witnessing death
- A breakup
- Deteriorating or chronic health conditions
- Natural disasters
Trauma is subjective to people and varies on past experiences and environmental factors. The problem is, you could be taught to be resilient from a young age and still be hugely effected by an experience; it really doesn’t discriminate.
Manifestations of trauma
Trauma can show itself in various ways, and while two people can experience the same trauma, they can display a different manifestation to it. Some common responses to trauma are:
- Post traumatic stress disorder
- Suicidal ideologies and self harm
- Change in appetite and appearance
- Personality and mood changes
When experiencing PTSD it’s important to note that the person is reliving the event constantly while both awake and asleep. This is the most common emotional response and like the other responses mentioned above, can effect the person for a long time; we’re talking years. Years of reliving the traumatic event has a detrimental effect.
Depression is a hard one. It effects people differently and in each case, is life altering. This is like anxiety, in that it’s altered behaviour from something specific. But in saying that, they are quite different. Depression is a change in mood, lifestyle, functionality and perspectives. Anxiety is avoidance, purposely (conscious and subconsciously) changed behaviour and obsessive behaviour.
Often, trauma sufferers will consider suicide an option and inflict self harm. This part I feel is the most misunderstood aspect. We don’t actually want to die….rather we want how we’re feeling to disappear or ‘die’. It’s a feeling that doesn’t go away quickly and feels like someone’s throwing salt into an open wound. Self harm is more finding ways to expel emotions the person cannot convey or explain. Historically, it’s been noted that people used to self harm to rid themselves of ‘evil spirits’ and I feel that subconsciously this is still true…to a degree.
Seclusion is done out of fear that the experience will happen again and the way to avoid it is to avoid people and places. Seclusion will also effect their personality and moods; they.l display considerable mood changes when around situations that may remind them of the experience or around the people that may have also been there to witness it.
Long term effects
While the event may be over, the experience is not. When you’re put under extreme stress your brain begins to rewire itself into becoming hyper-vigilant and constantly alert. Most people who have experienced one trauma often experience subsequent traumas, either through similar events or new events, or even from being highly alert. This is not undermining subsequent trauma, trauma is both serious and variable.
These sufferers will also have long term mental health conditions that can last a couple of months, to years to a lifetime. It’s important to not try and rush them to try and ‘get better’ as soon as possible, because that is not even remotely plausible.
If you haven’t experienced trauma it may be hard to relate to someone who has and that’s okay. It’s important to show them empathy and be someone that they can talk to. People are different in how they like being talked to. I personally, have never liked when someone has told me that they “understand exactly how I feel” or they try and relate my trauma to something that isn’t even remotely similar. (I’m not being an asshole here, but if you equate me watching my grandfather die to you not even knowing your grandparents and telling me I’m lucky (legit happened) you completely lack empathy and understanding). Different people will have different perspectives.
It’s also important to understand that they may go through waves where the experience effects them heavily again for a bit of time then return back to their new ‘normal’. It’s not as simple as letting it go.
This is the kicker. The super bad kicker. You will constantly expect something to go wrong so when something does go right you find a way to ruin it, whether you’re aware of it or not. This is a big thing in people who have experienced trauma. It’s not because we don’t want to be happy, but it’s because we kind of begin to expect most things will become turbulent. It’s almost a habit, and it takes a long time to accept that positive things do happen and will flourish into more positive things. It’s not as simple as “just be positive”, it requires a lot of hard work.
Here’s an exercise that helps me:
- Write down the thought I’m having
- Then how it makes me feel
- Write down the evidence that supports that thought
- And then evidence that doesn’t support the thought
- Flip it around and write a positive thought for it
- Finally, write down how you’re feeling afterwards
This works for a lot of scenarios, I highly recommend it.
Rebuilding your life
Often after trauma you become basically a shell of who you used to be, not always but often nonetheless. While it’s daunting to have to find yourself again, I took it as an opportunity to become the person I want to be; trouble is you’ll be doing this for a long time after. A lot of my morals and beliefs changed after experiencing trauma and I used those as the foundations of the new person I was going to be. I also looked at the positive traits of the people around me and the things that made me feel good when hanging around other people.
It’s hard having to find your feet again. I completely lost myself and forgot who I actually was, which at the time made me feel horrible. Now, I look at it as a blessing in disguise; that I’m able to change and grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be.
Some handy tips:
- Figure out what your morals and beliefs are
- Notice the sort of people you associate with (if they’re negative or focus on the negatives, you’ll be doing that too)
- Think about the people you want in your life
- Reflect on all the positives that either have been in your life in the past or now, look at how you can be grateful for those and express it
- Listen to your intuition and feed off of vibes
I hope this post has explained the main aspects of trauma and maybe created a level of understanding for you. This post is longer than I anticipated but hopefully a good read nonetheless. Look out for your loved ones and always start a conversation if someone’s not okay.