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Understanding Trauma (part 2)

Parent Child Stress

In part one of this series we looked at understanding trauma and the possible causes of trauma in your own life and the lives of the people around you.

“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies: The past is alive in the form of gnawing interior discomfort. Their bodies are constantly bombarded by visceral warning signs, and, in an attempt to control these processes, they often become expert at ignoring their gut feelings and in numbing awareness of what is played out inside. They learn to hide from their selves.” (p.97)”
― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

How do we recognise trauma?

Someone who has experienced trauma in their lives can have a number of different effects.

They experience:

  • Flashback:  reliving aspects of a traumatic event or feeling as if it is happening now.
  • Dissociation: your mind disconnects so it can cope with overwhelming stress. In this state you might feel numb, spaced out, detached from your body or as though the world around you are unreal.
  • Hyperarousal: You feel extremely anxious, on edge and unable to relax. Often you are looking out for threats or danger.
  • Sleep problems: you might find it hard to fall or stay asleep, feel unsafe at night, or feel anxious or afraid of having nightmares.
  • Panic attacks: this is a sudden overwhelming feeling of anxiety that can physically debilitate you.
  • Low self-esteem: the value you place on yourself is lower than before the event.
  • Grief: Loss, including someone dying, can be extremely traumatic. Trauma can change how people live which can lead to additional grief, such as missing out on doing things in life.
  • Suicidal feelings and self-harm: thinking and day dreaming of ways of ending your life or hurting yourself.
  • Alcohol and substance misuse: using substances to numb the pain of the trauma and the feelings that you carry with you every day.
  • Feeling of self-blame: often feeling you are to blame for the traumatic event or experience become your companion after trauma. Feelings of shame and guilt are with you daily.

The effects of trauma can come or go on a daily basis or hang around for a long time. Sometimes you feel fine for a while and then a small trigger opens up the trauma wound again.

People you are struggling with trauma can battle with:

  • Generally looking after themselves – managing their lives well such as hygiene, eating, sleeping and relationships
  • Holding down a job for a length of time or not being able to perform well in their job
  • Trusting people which means they often struggle maintaining friendships and relationships
  • Remembering things and making good decisions
  • Coping with change – change makes them feel unsafe and can enhance their feelings of trauma
  • Their sex life can be impacted. Either it becomes something that is out of control and functions similarly to substance abuse or it is almost like another trauma for them or it becomes non-existent.
  • Being able to just enjoy the smaller, fun moments in life.

Other signs and symptoms of trauma: edginess, irritability, poor concentration, anger outbursts, fatigue, sadness and mood swings.

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