Trauma refers to the body or mind being overwhelmed by traumatic events. Psychological trauma in particular occurs as a result of a distressing event that leads the sufferer to question their beliefs while destroying their assumptions of trust. If you have experienced a traumatic event, you may feel socially disconnected and somewhat numb, leading to feelings of isolation. On top of this, you may find yourself feeling more afraid and vulnerable than before the event.
Psychological trauma is the mind’s reaction to an event and not everyone will react to the same event in the same way – for example, some people would find falling from a height traumatic, while others choose to jump out of planes for fun. Trauma also affects people in different ways and for some, the symptoms take weeks, months or even years to surface.
Regardless of its source, an emotional trauma contains three common elements:
- it was unexpected;
- the person was unprepared; and
- there was nothing the person could do to prevent it from happening.
Causes of trauma
As previously mentioned, trauma is subjective and can have a multitude of causes. The common factor for events that lead to trauma is that they are not anticipated and are outside the realms of what we deem to be acceptable – physically, emotionally or socially. Below are some examples of events that could lead to psychological trauma.
This can refer to physical, emotional, sexual or verbal abuse. Anything that can be described as improper treatment that leads you to feel violated in some way constitutes abuse. The traumatic event could be a one-off attack or a recurring form of abuse that takes place over long periods of time.
Being involved in an accident can lead to a traumatic response. Examples include car accidents, a bad fall and accidentally harming someone else. Even if you were not physically harmed by the accident in question, being involved and experiencing the event can still lead to traumatic feelings.
Brain tumour and brain injury
Injuries and cancer of the brain can be catastrophic for both the person affected and those around them. In some cases, such injuries and illness can alter personalities or affect key motor skills – both of which can lead to symptoms of psychological trauma.
This can relate to natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes as well as man-made events like war and bombings. Being involved in these kinds of events can affect you both directly and indirectly.
Some physical injuries can change your life forever. You may have had a limb amputated and need to learn to cope with your new disability, or you may be left with physical scarring and chronic pain. Either way, this kind of trauma often requires a great deal of emotional support alongside physical rehabilitation.
Whether it’s yourself or someone close to you who has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, traumatic symptoms are often experienced. Equally, when someone close to you passes away (whether it’s expected or unexpected) you can start to question your belief system and shut down emotionally.
Experiencing violence in any way can be traumatic. Whether you have been the victim of physical violence, threatened with violence or even witnessed violence – you could find yourself suffering from symptoms of psychological trauma.
Symptoms of trauma
Symptoms of trauma vary from person to person and depend on the severity of the event. These symptoms can last anything from a couple of days to decades if treatment isn’t sought. Some people also find that they do not notice any symptoms immediately after the event as they can often occur some time later.
Common symptoms of psychological trauma include:
- Flashbacks – When you re-experience the traumatic event mentally or physically.
- Insomnia – After a traumatic experience it is common to have difficulties sleeping due to nightmares or due to mentally going over details of the event.
- Anxiety – Feeling constantly anxious after a trauma is very common. Sometimes these feelings turn into anxiety disorders such as PTSD or panic attacks.
- Stress – Even if you handled stress very well before your experience, many people find stress harder to manage after a traumatic event.
- Anger – Feeling angry after a trauma is very common. You might be angry at the person who traumatised you, at the event itself or even at the world. This can lead to outbursts and other anger management issues.
- Depression – Many people fall into a depression after experiencing something very distressing. You can be left wondering why the event happened to you – leading to dark moods and in severe cases, suicidal thoughts.
- Loss of self-esteem – It can be easy to lack self-belief and self-confidence after you have experienced something traumatic. You can be left questioning your identity and what you have to offer the world.
- Self-medication – For some, the only way they feel they can deal with what happened is by self-medicating with alcohol or drugs. This leads to very self-destructive behaviour and can isolate you from friends and family.
- Emotional detachment – For some, the emotions brought up are so severe that they cannot deal with them at all. This can lead to emotional numbness, also known as dissociation. You may refuse to deal with any psychological issues you have and could appear cold and distant to others.
The longer your trauma symptoms go untreated, the more psychological damage they could cause. Therefore it is important to know when to seek professional help.