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What Is Trauma?

Undergoing highly stressful, terrifying, or distressing events is often referred to as trauma. When discussing emotional or psychological trauma, we may be referring to:

  1. Situations or events that we perceive as traumatic.

  2. The impact that our experiences have on us.

Traumatic events can occur at any stage of life and can result in long-lasting damage. Each individual reacts differently to trauma, so the effects may manifest immediately or take a significant amount of time to surface.

If you have experienced trauma, it is crucial to acknowledge that you managed to survive the ordeal in the best way you could, and the reactions you are having are common and normal. For more information on the consequences of trauma, please refer to our dedicated page.

Experiencing additional trauma can also trigger the resurfacing of past experiences or exacerbate existing problems. It is perfectly acceptable to seek help at any point, even if you are unsure whether you have experienced trauma.

Determining what experiences are traumatic is a deeply personal matter. No one else can fully comprehend how you perceive your own experiences or whether they were traumatic for you. It is possible for two individuals to have similar experiences yet be impacted differently.

Trauma can include events where you feel:

  • frightened

  • under threat

  • humiliated

  • rejected

  • abandoned

  • invalidated

  • unsafe

  • unsupported

  • trapped

  • ashamed

  • powerless.

Ways trauma can happen include:

​Trauma can occur in various ways, encompassing both isolated incidents and recurring events. It can stem from personal experiences of direct harm, observing harm inflicted on others, living in an environment marked by trauma, or being impacted by trauma within a family or community setting.

How our bodies respond to danger-

When we feel stressed or threatened, our bodies release hormones called cortisol and adrenaline. This is the body's automatic way of preparing to respond to danger, and we have no control over it.

This can have a range of effects, which are sometimes called:

  • Freeze – feeling paralyzed or unable to move.

  • Flop – doing what you're told without being able to protest.

  • Fight – fighting, struggling or protesting.

  • Flight – hiding or moving away.

  • Fawn – trying to please someone who harms you.

Common mental health effects of trauma:

  1. Recurring memories - experiencing aspects of a traumatic event or feeling as if it is currently happening, regardless of whether you remember specific details. For more information on this, please refer to our resources on flashbacks.

  2. Anxiety attacks - a type of fear response that is an exaggerated reaction to danger, stress, or excitement. To learn more about anxiety attacks, please see our information on panic attacks.

  3. Disconnection - a coping mechanism used by the mind to manage overwhelming stress. You may feel numb, detached from your body, spaced out, or perceive the world around you as unreal. For further insight into dissociation and dissociative disorders, please refer to our resources.

  4. Heightened alertness - feeling extremely anxious, constantly on edge, and unable to relax. You may find yourself constantly scanning for potential threats or danger. For more information on anxiety and how it relates to trauma, please see our resources.

  5. Sleep disturbances - experiencing difficulties falling asleep or staying asleep, feeling unsafe at night, or experiencing anxiety or fear related to nightmares. Our information on sleep problems can provide further guidance on this topic.

  6. Decreased self-esteem - trauma can have an impact on how you value and perceive yourself. It may lead to a decrease in self-worth and a negative self-image. If you would like more information on this, please refer to our resources.

It is important to note that these are just some of the common mental health effects of trauma. Every individual may experience trauma differently, and it is crucial to seek professional help and support to address and manage these effects effectively.

Feelings of self-blame

People who have experienced trauma often find themselves feeling responsible for what happened. This can lead to intense emotions of shame and guilt, even though they are not at fault.

There are several reasons why individuals may blame themselves:

One reason is that their mind is trying to make sense of the traumatic event and avoid overwhelming feelings of anger, grief, or betrayal.

In some cases, self-blame becomes a survival mechanism in unsafe or stressful situations, such as living with an abusive person.

They may believe that they could have done something differently at the time, even though it was impossible.

Others may have placed blame on them for the incident or treated them as if it was their fault.

They may have been made to feel responsible for someone else's actions, despite being under their control (referred to as 'transfer of responsibility').

While self-blame can be incredibly challenging to handle, it can also be a coping mechanism that the mind employs to protect itself.

 

Changing these feelings may require time and support. It is normal to feel confused or overwhelmed when someone reassures them that it was not their fault, although this affirmation can also bring relief.

How can I cope in the long term?

How can I manage my long-term well-being? Dealing with the impacts of trauma can often be challenging and draining, but there are strategies that can provide assistance.

Familiarize yourself with your triggers Open up to someone you trust Allow yourself ample time Discover relaxation techniques Create a box filled with self-care items Explore peer support options Seek out specialized support Take care of your physical well-being

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