“It’s not the objective facts that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.”
Below is a list of the 5 most common questions people ask related to trauma.
1. What is trauma?
In summary, an emotional or psychological trauma:
Occurs when a person is exposed to an intensely stressful experience which destroys their basic sense of security.
Thus, it threatens their safety (physical, emotional or psychological).
Often the experience will have been unexpected.
The person will have felt completely overwhelmed, helpless and alone.
This experience will have left the person feeling used, abused, taken advantage of, treated as an object, violated, disregarded or trashed.
They will also feel extremely vulnerable, powerless, and unable to protect themselves from similar dangers in the future.
A negative life experience is more likely to be traumatizing if it occurs in childhood, or if the aggressor was intentionally cruel, or if it occurred repeatedly over a long period of time. Also, if he or she was someone they trusted and loved.
2. What are the symptoms of PTSD?
These include: re-experiencing the trauma; experiencing avoidance or emotional numbing; experiencing heightened vigilance; and experiencing illnesses like depression, generalised anxiety disorder, panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive disorder, dizziness, shaking, chest pains, stomach pains, problems woth thinking and memory lapses.
3. Why do some people develop PTSD, and others don’t?
Factors which can increase our risk of developing PTSD include:
Experiencing a trauma which is totally shocking, extremely intense, or where the trauma is chronic.
Being traumatized by someone you loved, trusted, or depended on.
Having experienced abuse, neglect, trauma, abandonment or the threat of abandonment in childhood.
Not being able to access good support immediately after the traumatic incident.
Experiencing a trauma when you were already emotionally overloaded, or had experienced a number of losses.
Having a history of mental illness, such as a depression or anxiety.
Feeling powerless, trapped and unable to escape from the traumatic situation.
4. Why do I feel as if the traumatic event is happening over and over again?
Re-experiencing trauma is a survival response to protect you from “being caught out” and harmed again. You brain is keeping you on high alert so you pay attention to your environment. It knows its limits, and it fears it could not cope if anything as serious was to happen again.
Also, traumatic responses can also get trapped in the individual’s body and brain. Release is possible with a lot of work, and the knowledge and skill of a trained counsellor.
5. Can I ever recover from a traumatic experience?
Untreated trauma can last for a lifetime. It’s also very natural to want to avoid dealing with something as painful as this. Plus, it’s hard to discuss, and to put into words. Also, traumatized people often struggle with shame.
However, if we’re willing to face, and to work through what has happened, we can slowly start to heal, and recover over time.
“We don’t ‘get over’ or ‘move on’ from trauma. We are forced to make space for it. We carry it. We learn to live with it. And, sometimes, we thrive in spite of it.”