How Trauma Affects Us

How Trauma Affects Us

Have you ever wondered how much of an impact trauma can have in our lives?

Throughout my own life experiences and in witnessing those of others, I have seen the severity of traumatic experiences and how the effects can have a lasting impact on our ability to function and feel safe in the world. 

According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, in a given year, approximately 5.2 million people suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Approximately 7 to 8 percent of the population will have the disorder at some time.

Trauma can show up in various forms, and is caused by an overwhelmingly negative event which has a lasting impact on the emotional and mental health of the victim. This can include physical / sexual / emotional violence, experiences of loss, natural disasters, severe illness, or witnessing a traumatic event. 

When our resilience to cope with trauma reaches its threshold, it can begin to affect us in very negative ways. Our minds can find such traumatic experiences overwhelming and therefore, can go into ‘shut down’ mode where the events are not processed adequately and continue to come back in the form of distressing memories, flashbacks, and nightmares. At times, with the right amount of support around us, we can overcome the trauma following a period of acute stress, while slowly coming to terms with what has happened. For many people however, symptoms of trauma can persist, leading to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

PTSD symptoms include four categories:

  1. Re-experiencing symptoms (having flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, physical responses in the body in response to trauma triggers)
  2. Arousal symptoms (being hyper-vigilant for danger, problems with concentration, difficulty sleeping)
  3. Avoidance symptoms (avoidance of any reminders about the event, feeling ‘numb’, not wanting to talk about the event)
  4. Negative thoughts and emotions (low mood, anxiety, sense of guilt about what happened, negative thoughts about yourself).

The more severe the trauma, or the more times an individual experiences trauma in their life, the more likely they may develop PTSD. This is further likely if an individual does not have adequate social support around them to cope. Childhood trauma can be particularly debilitating as children don’t have the resiliency or adequate coping strategies to understand what may be happening, which can lead to more complex outcomes. 

Many PTSD sufferers have a hard time reaching out for support and help as they are caught up in a loop of avoiding talking about the trauma or disclosing how they really feel. This can lead to negative coping strategies that further isolate them from getting the support they need, or they may turn to substances and addictions that are destructive to their physical and mental health. 

Every traumatic event can impact our sense of safety and security in the world which needs to be processed, and healed. If you or someone you know is experiencing PTSD or is needing support, help is available, and recovery is possible. Reach out to those who may be suffering silently. Ask for support if you are the one suffering silently. We are not meant to walk through life alone when we are struggling. Asking for help is a courageous and brave thing to do, and I commend you for making that choice. 

Please share this information with anyone who may be needing to know they are not alone and that recovering from trauma is possible. 

With much love,

Dr. Kasia Wilk

CPsychol; DCounsPsych; M.Sc; B.Sc (Hons)

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