• Blogs
  • Understanding trauma

Understanding trauma

23 April 2021 Blog
Mental health
Experiencing psychological trauma is challenging and recovery from such events can be quite perplexing.

As the St John of God Midland Public and Private Hospitals mental health team explains, many people experience some common reactions after a trauma, whereas some experiences can be quite unique and bothersome for other people.

Several changes that are experienced by people suffering from trauma may be considered normal. Many problems are expected in the immediate aftermath. Several individuals feel better within three months, whereas others require longer to recover. Unfortunately, some people experience longer lasting symptoms that may be debilitating for them.

The first step towards recovery is learning about the changes that you may have experienced as a result of trauma, and some common ones include, but are not limited to, those listed below. 

Anxiety

Anxiety is associated quite commonly in the aftermath of trauma and for some individuals it may be a natural response to a dangerous situation. For many people it can last longer and after the trauma has ended. This happens when your view of the world and a sense of safety have changed. 

Remembering the trauma may be anxiety provoking however sometimes anxiety may be a result of an unknown trigger. Some of the common triggers that lead to anxiety may include certain places, noises, smells, or any situations that remind you of the trauma. As you learn to pay more attention to the times when you feel anxious, you can discover some of the common cues and triggers for your anxiety. In this way, you may learn that some of the sudden experiences of anxiety are really triggered by things that remind you of your trauma.

Avoidance

Some people start to become avoidant which is a common way of dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms. The most common type is avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma, such as the place where it happened. Often, situations that are less directly related to the trauma are also avoided, such as going out in the evening if the trauma occurred at night, or going to crowded areas such as the grocery store, shopping mall or movie theatre. 

Re-experiencing the trauma 

People often “re-experience” the traumatic event. For example, many individuals find that they are unable to get rid of the traumatic thoughts. There are a variety of ways to re-experience the trauma that range from having flashbacks, vivid memories of the particular incident or nightmares. The underlying cause behind these feelings might be a neurochemical change which makes these experiences so diverse and they cannot be classified into a ‘one size fit all’. As we develop more life experiences, our minds take a while to readjust as the old horrifying events still persist. It takes a while to rid these old memories before new memories are formed based on the newer pleasant experiences. 

Guilt and shame

Both of these are considered other implications of trauma. It is quite common for individuals to blame themselves for the actions that they could have performed to avoid a traumatic events such as for example a physical assault. A study conducted on adults that survived PTSD from being bullied in school, revealed that majority of these individuals had remorse and felt that they could retaliate. When asked whether their actions would be any different if the similar incidents occurred today, their responses were very similar and several of them stated that they would take matters in their own hands to curb those feelings of guilt and shame. It is noticed that such incidents have a profound but unique effect on each individual.

Drug dependence

This is another problem that is seen in PTSD survivors because several of these individuals do not want to live with these traumatic events that can result in drug dependence. When interviewed in a study of individuals with PTSD history, they all expressed a wish to “numb the feelings down” by drinking excessively or smoking marijuana. The use of other illicit substances and psychoactive substances is also quite common. 

Fortunately, there are treatments available that can help you recover from PTSD and experience long-term relief from symptoms without the use of alcohol or drugs.

Other reactions

Many of the reactions to trauma are connected to one another. For example, a flashback may make you feel out of control, and will therefore produce anxiety and fear, which may then result in using alcohol or drugs to try to sleep at night. Many people think that their reactions to the trauma mean that they are “going crazy” or “losing it.” These thoughts can make them even more anxious. As you become more aware of the changes you have gone through since the trauma, and as you process these experiences during treatment, the symptoms will become less distressing and you will regain control of your life.

The above experiences are common and if you happen to be someone who may be experiencing any of the above, it is still not late to seek professional advice.

The St John of God Midland Public and Private Hospitals mental health team treat a wide range of mental health illnesses or conditions through a variety of services.