Understanding Trauma: Signs and Symptoms (plus, some hope)
Updated: Sep 13
As a therapist- and particularly one who works with trauma- you begin to notice patterns. One pattern that I noticed is the folks just like you, who have come in and told me very harrowing stories of lived events in their lives. Lots of times you don't even understand the extent of what you've gone through in your life.
This has illuminated to me that trauma, it’s signs and symptoms remain a bit unclear to many. Let’s explore this together in this blog post.
Whether you're seeking answers for yourself or a loved one, I hope to provide you with good, accurate information, so you can begin to gain insight- and most importantly, begin to find some hope.
Trauma is an experience that can profoundly impact your life. To begin to understand what you’re going through, we need to have a grasp on what the word actually means. Trauma, broadly put, can be a single distressing event or a series of events that overwhelm an individual's ability to cope emotionally or psychologically. These events can range from accidents and natural disasters to personal violations, abuse, sexual assault, or loss of a loved one. If we hear about these things happening to a close loved one, this can also be traumatic.
Types of Trauma: There are many different types of trauma. Here they are, in groups to help you understand further.
1. Acute trauma
Acute trauma occurs when there has been exposure to a single, highly distressing event. This could be something like experiencing a .car accident, natural disaster or act of violence. Acute trauma can lead to longer-term mental health problems if not appropriately addressed.
Acute trauma can lead to acute stress disorder (ASD). which is a mental health condition typically appearing within 3 days of a traumatizing event and lasting up to 1 month.
2. Chronic trauma
Chronic trauma is a response to ongoing or repeated traumatic experiences. It differs from acute trauma in this sense, as acute trauma occurs after just one traumatic experience or event.
Chronic trauma can result from any of the following:
3. Complex trauma
Complex trauma is a type of stress that can happen when someone has repeated exposure to ongoing overwhelming, scary and unsafe situations.Complex trauma can happen in both childhood and adulthood. Many first responders, for example, develop complex PTSD, but might not have a history of child abuse. Complex traumas such as abandonment or attachment trauma are more common among those who experienced abuse or neglect during childhood.
When you've experienced complex trauma, forming and maintaining relationships can be very challenging. Please don't despair if you're reading this and have experienced complex trauma- truly, hope is available and attachment styles can be changed.
Signs and Symptoms of Trauma:
Trauma symptoms are often subtle but powerful indicators of emotional pain. To help you recognize and understand them better, here are some common signs:
1. Flashbacks and Intrusive Thoughts: Trauma survivors often experience vivid and distressing flashbacks of the traumatic event. These intrusive thoughts can be triggered by reminders of the trauma, and individuals may feel as though they are reliving the experience.
2. Avoidance and Numbing: Many trauma survivors go to great lengths to avoid anything that reminds them of the traumatic event. This can include avoiding places, people, conversations, or activities associated with the trauma. Emotional numbing is also common, where individuals may feel disconnected from their emotions or have a reduced capacity to experience pleasure.
3. Hyperarousal: Trauma can put the nervous system on high alert, leading to hyperarousal symptoms. These may include exaggerated startle responses, irritability, difficulty concentrating, and heightened anxiety. Sleep disturbances, such as nightmares or insomnia, are also common.
4. Negative Changes in Beliefs and Feelings: Trauma can significantly impact one's beliefs about themselves, others, and the world. Survivors may develop negative and distorted beliefs, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, worthlessness, or hopelessness. They may blame themselves for the trauma or struggle to trust others.
5. Emotional Dysregulation: Trauma can disrupt emotional regulation, causing intense and unpredictable mood swings. Individuals may experience episodes of anger, rage, or deep sadness that are challenging to control.
6. Physical Symptoms: Trauma can manifest physically, leading to a range of unexplained physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension, and even chronic pain conditions.
7. Dissociation: Some trauma survivors may experience dissociation, where they feel disconnected from themselves or their surroundings. It can be described as feeling detached from reality, as though observing oneself from a distance.
8. Hypervigilance: Trauma survivors may become hypervigilant, constantly scanning their environment for potential threats. This state of hyper-awareness can be mentally and physically exhausting.
9. Social Withdrawal: Trauma can lead to social withdrawal and isolation. Survivors may find it challenging to trust others, leading to difficulties in forming or maintaining relationships.
10. Substance Abuse: Some individuals turn to alcohol or drugs to cope with the distressing symptoms of trauma, leading to substance abuse issues.
It's important to note that trauma symptoms can vary in intensity and may not always be immediately apparent. Additionally, some individuals may develop symptoms shortly after a traumatic event, while others may experience a delayed onset, sometimes years later. That is why we see people in our clinic who, at mid or later life, find themselves quite suddenly battling what feels like sudden and debilitating symptoms. The truth it, the history was always there, bubbling under the surface.
If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of trauma, seeking help from a mental health professional trained in trauma therapy is crucial. Early intervention and appropriate treatment can significantly improve the prognosis and help individuals on the path to healing and recovery. Remember, there is hope, and healing is possible.
The Effects of Trauma
The consequences of trauma reach far and wide, affecting various aspects of life. To grasp the full extent of these effects, consider the following:
1. Mental Health Struggles: Trauma can be a precursor to mental health disorders like depression and anxiety. 2. Relationship Difficulties: Trauma can strain relationships. Read about the impact of trauma on relationships here. 3. Self-Esteem and Self-Worth: Trauma can erode self-esteem. Gain insights into rebuilding self-esteem here. 4. Physical Health Consequences: The chronic stress response linked to trauma can affect physical health. Discover more about the mind-body connection here.
Trauma Therapy: A Path to Healing There are many roads to healing, and we don’t claim that one has a monopoly. As a therapist and as someone who has put her life back together piece by piece, I can you that community, connection, processing, insight and structure are fundamental to most recoveries. Trauma therapy is a critical building block to living the life that you were destined for. Read more about that here. Recovery from trauma is possible, and it begins with understanding the healing process. Here are some key steps on the journey to recovery:
1. Acknowledgment: Recognizing that you have experienced trauma is a significant step. You are not alone, and your feelings are valid.
2. Seeking Support: Reach out to trusted friends and family or consider professional therapy. Speaking to a therapist who specializes in trauma can provide invaluable support.
3. Self-Care: Prioritize self-care practices that help you manage stress, relax, and reconnect with your inner strength.
4. Healing Resources: Explore resources such as books, podcasts, and online communities that offer guidance and support on healing from trauma.
At the LCTT, we are committed to helping everyone we encounter. If you're reading this and you think: 'ok- but how do I know if I have 'enough' trauma?" I have answered that for you right here. Trauma may leave scars, but it doesn't define who you are. We offer a safe space to explore your feelings, share your experiences, and find the support you need.ATalking about what happened simply isn’t enough. Recovery requires learning new ways of being, relating and responding.
Here are some options that we offer:
Online Therapy: Explore the convenience of online therapy here. Therapy in London, Ontario: If you're in London, Ontario, there are skilled therapists ready to support you. Here is our all-star roster of therapists who are ready to support you on your journey.