Image by Stacie Lucas

Do you know signs of trauma?

What is Trauma and what are some of the symptoms?

 

 

The word trauma in the Cambridge Dictionary describes trauma as 

 

  1. severe emotional shock and pain caused by

  2. an extremely upsetting experience.  

 

I often find myself shying away from using the word trauma with my clients.  This is because we often only associate trauma with big stressful events or situations. You are probably aware of the disorder PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and have heard stories of soldiers coming home from war torn countries who go onto be diagnosed with PTSD due to the psychological and physical impact of their shocking experiences. However, in Psychotherapy trauma is not just PTSD, we have a broader view of trauma and how it can occur.  

 

Before I go into explaining the types of traumas, how they can occur and what types of symptoms are related to trauma; I want to explain in simple terms what trauma is.  You might even come to see that to some extent pretty much all of us have been faced with a “trauma” at some point in our lives. Firstly trauma can be separated into what are called little “t” traumas, traumas that are generally not highly impactful on our health and wellbeing and big “T” traumas, those which can be more impactful on our overall health and wellbeing.   But whether it is a little t trauma or a big T trauma, it is ultimately how a trauma impacts you personally, that will make you decide whether you want to work with a Psychotherapist to help you resolve your issues .  

 

In it´s simplest terms trauma is something that occurs when you become “overwhelmed” by a situation or incident that is perceived as a threat to your life, your identity or your sense of self.   Trauma can also occur if you witness the trauma of another person, animal etc.  When you are under threat your nervous system goes into a fight flight state, either indicating for you to flee and move away or if that is not possible, maybe fight your way out of the situation so you can move towards safety.  This can happen in all sorts of situations in our daily life too.  For example, you are standing at the train station and the person near you looks like they are behaving strangely,  you nervous system warns you to move away (flee response).  But if this person got too close and you felt more threatened you might shout at them (fight response) to move out of your way, so you can move to safety.

 

But it is in over whelming situations that your natural instincts to stay safe may be overridden.  This causes the nervous system to be flooded by energy which cannot be directed into action, resulting in a shut down freeze type state. This can cause a dysregulation in the nervous system and lead to a variety of issues; some of which I outline below.

 

It should also be said, that we do not always have trauma from what can be viewed as a potentially traumatic situation or event. There are many other factors, which I will not go into here, that can impact whether a trauma can be processed at the time, without leaving it´s imprint on you.  However, if you do get symptoms from your experiences, It is my belief that by working on your inner wounds and re-regulating your nervous system that you can come back to yourself and feel more whole again.

 

I have listed here the main types of traumas and some of the situations that can lead to trauma.  I have also listed some of the symptoms that can be associated with trauma.  For more on trauma, my blog goes into more depth on subjects such as neuroscience, how the body holds the memory of trauma, chronic illness, spirituality and ancient healing views on trauma.

 

Shock Trauma

 

This is acute trauma that has happened as a result of something happening quickly or unexpectedly.  This is a big "T" trauma category and is often associated with PTSD. 

 

Examples:

 

Muggings or beatings

Shootings or explosions, e.g. in war environments or dangerous places

Natural disasters (including the Covid - 19 pandemic) See blog post here on this.

Sudden extreme loss

Sexual assault

Difficult childbirth

Road accidents

Going under an anaesthesia whilst feeling unsafe

Getting extremely ill suddenly

 

 

Complex or Developmental Trauma

 

This is often experienced from childhood and involves situations or experiences whereby the child was unable to feel safe or connected with their caregivers.  It often occurs when the person has been exposed to a situation over a prolonged period of time and they may have been made to feel powerless, overwhelmed, manipulated, coerced, or maybe trapped emotionally or physically.  Or they have may have experienced some form of emotional or physical neglect or abandonment by their caregivers.   There is also pre and peri-natal trauma which are pre-verbal and stored in the body.  These traumas that can date right back to being an embryo in the womb. For some, these experiences listed below can lead to higher impact big “T” trauma.

 

Examples:

 

  • Emotional abuse

  • Domestic violence

  • Emotional neglect

  • Abandonment

  • Verbal abuse

  • Manipulation

  • Physical abuse

  • Bullying 

  • Sexual abuse

  • Physical neglect

  • Sibling abuse

  • Being raised in a cult environment

  • Inconsistent care from caregivers

 

 

Intergenerational / Transgenerational / Collective Trauma

 

This is trauma that is passed down within families, communities and cultures.  Whereby, the traumatic experience of others, impacts the wellbeing of the individual.  

 

Examples:

 

  • Children of holocaust survivors

  • Racism

  • Displacement or forced removal from home and country

  • Living with parents with trauma 

  • Living with parents with chronic illness or depression

 

 

Little “t” traumas

 

Examples:

 

  • A hurtful remark made by a parent that you never forgot, maybe leading to distorted self-beliefs.

  • A dental appointment that was overwhelming, but you had to stick it out!

  • Moving house

  • Being ridiculed at work or at school

 

 

Vicarious Trauma

 

Vicarious trauma can happen when you are frequently in the presence of people who have been traumatised. For example, people who work in the helping professions, such as, doctors and psychologists, who can become vulnerable to picking up trauma type symptoms from their patients and become themselves “trauma fatigued”. 

 

 

Below are some examples of symptoms you may experience due to trauma.  Please note that having any of these symptoms does not necessarily mean you have an issue with trauma, you need to discuss this with a health care professional to establish if there is a relationship between your symptoms and trauma.

 

Symptoms:

 

Cognitive 

 

  • Forgetfulness

  • Disorientation

  • Intrusive thoughts

  • Distorted self beliefs and thought patterns e.g. catastrophising

  • Loss of recall memory and concentration 

  • Nightmares

  • Flashbacks

  • Intrusive or imposter type thoughts

 

Behavioral

 

  • Feeling and appearing detached from your environment (dissociation)

  • Self-isolating, avoiding places and people, especially if they are a trauma trigger.

  • Difficulty in maintaining healthy relationships, this can be due to things like distrust, over dependency or a general difficulty in connecting.

  • Excessive shyness and difficulty making eye contact

  • A lack of interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyed.

  • Always on alert

  • Addictions

  • Compulsive behaviours 

 

 

Physical / Somatic

 

  • Pain

  • Chronic illness

  • Fatigue

  • Auto-immune issues e.g fibromyalgia, endometriosis, asthma

  • Gut Issues, e.g. leaky gut, candida, food intolerances

  • Hyper-sensitivity to sounds, smells, perfumes, foods etc

  • Ticks 

  • Tachycardia

  • Tinnitus

  • Insomnia or sleeping issues (apnea)

  • Sexual issues

  • Chronic muscle patterns and tension

 

Emotional / Feelings

 

  • Sense of not being safe, fear

  • Chronic anxiety

  • Swinging between anxiety and shut down

  • Numbing, disconnecting, zoning out, shut down

  • Depression

  • Anger / rage

  • Irritable

  • Panic attacks

  • Shame

  • Self-loathing

  • Sadness

  • Tearfulness

  • Aloneness /loneliness

  • Trapped

  • Sense of dread

 

Contact me here if you would like to make an appointment to discuss your personal situation further.

 

More can be found on my blog.