The term trauma refers to an overwhelming level of stress created through particularly distressing, painful or difficult experiences. These experiences in most cases exceed our ability to manage, cope or integrate the emotions and feelings associated with the event or experience. Psychological trauma can occur on a one-off basis, repeat over a period of time or can be intermittent throughout life.
The sense of being overwhelmed which occurs through trauma can often be delayed by months, years or even decades, as we struggle to cope with the immediate circumstances of the events themselves. Because of the painful and difficult nature of traumatic memories, they are often hidden deep within our unconscious mind and we form defences around them, finding methods of coping until a trigger or event reminds us of our experience and we are re-traumatised and overwhelmed.
Regardless of its source, an emotional trauma contains three common elements:
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.
It is important to know that 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 affects people in different ways and for some, the symptoms take weeks, months or even years to surface.
The most common term used to describe the symptoms of psychological trauma is post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
Thankfully, not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will go on to develop PTSD.
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.
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 sometime later.
As we all react differently to these types of events, it is important not to compare yourself to other people, even if they went through the same experience.
By getting help as soon as you need it, you will be giving yourself the best chance to overcome any issues and move on with your life. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms described above and they are persisting for weeks or even months, be sure to seek help.
There are many different treatment options for those going through psychological trauma; the key is finding a treatment that works best for you. The type of treatment you receive will depend on a number of factors, including the kind of trauma you experienced, your personality and your counsellor..