What Is Trauma?
- Trauma can happen to anyone and our responses to trauma are commonly judged or misunderstood
- Trauma is an subjective event. It will feel different for everyone depending on their life experiences
- Being traumatised is not ‘metabolising’ the event. Often it is too much to process at the time
- Trauma is often associated with unsuccessful attempts or an innability to get away from a stressor
- You do not have to be a soldier on the front line to have experienced trauma
- If we feel out of control, helpless or unable to escape something difficult
- Examples of traumatic events might be : emergency surgery, childbirth, childhood neglect, physical abuse, bullying, emotional abuse & injury
- Eventually our trigger neurophysiological responses of fight, flight or freeze will take over
- This is our body trying to keep us safe and help us survive
- If we didn’t have these life saving reponses human beings wouldn’t be here
When past trauma is unresolved the extreme high or low arousal doesn’t get a chance to re-calibrate and settle into an optimal arousal zone where we can tolerate all the stimuli we are bombarded with. So we often live our lives having extreme reactions as our system is primed to act this way.
Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) symptoms are caused by the mind trying to make sense of overwhelming parts of the story when the body/mind system was overwhelmed by stressful or challenging events.
Trauma is often defined as ‘the event’, however, it is always subjective. We all have our own ways of responding to any event.
It is often hard for people to understand that everyone responds differently.
For example, some of us are extremely frightened by turbulence on a plane, while others can feel these things intensely but are able to bring that arousal within a liveable window of tolerance.
When we perceive a threat to safety (or life) this stimulates the nervous system. Nervous system arousal might shoot up causing muscles to tense, the heart beats faster, in order to mobilise our instinctive responses of fight, flight or cry for help (what we see in babies).
If that doesn’t work, this arousal will plummet. We will freeze and shut down and perhaps feign death (playing possum) in order to survive. e.g. becoming dreamy, quiet and disconnected.
This slowing down response is something that we all have, but it is commonly misinterpreted, judged or misunderstood. e.g. Why didn’t they fight back?
If you have a history of continued or complex trauma (such as bullying or an alcoholic parent) you are much more likely to experience difficult events in a much stronger way. Our inner threat detection dial is always turned up.
This is what is challenging about healing from complex trauma such as childhood or emotional abuse, it’s all ongoing, it doesn’t stop, it’s never-ending and our system responds to that to keep us safe.
When traumatised in this way we often don’t recover fully (the dial is set too high) and the trauma responses live on in the body.
Trauma might be caused by a specific event like a car crash, or by ‘soft trauma‘ (many smaller events eventually building up and overloading the system) such as ccontinued high levels of stress.
When this happens our primitive brain, the fight and flight responses automatically take over and start to flood our system with hormones to help us escape from the threat.
For some, the fight and flight dial gets turned up too high and they can get stuck in this over active state.
For many, this over active ‘going fast’ state might feel normal and slowing down might feel very frightening or too difficult.
This is when they may need a little help to turn the internal stress dial back down again.
Some of the key signs of trauma or PTS can be:
- Physical sensations – pain, nausea, sweating
- Flashbacks – involuntarily and vividly re-living events
- Repetitive and upsetting images or sensations
- Constant negative thoughts, self-questioning, guilt and shame ‘why didn’t I fight back?’
- Avoidance of similar situations
- Hyperarousal – feeling jumpy and ‘on edge’ all the time
- Angry outbursts
- Excessive tearfulness
- Brain fog
- Sleep problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Numbness and disconnection from the world
PTS symptoms are not just for soldiers. It can happen to anyone.
If you are worried that you might have PTS your GP will be able to help you get a diagnosis. You are not alone and it is important that you get some help.
If you would like to speak to me please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org