Understanding Emotional and Psychological Trauma
When our sense of security is suddenly shattered and, without warning, we find ourselves helpless and vulnerable, our perception of our own safety and the world around us can undergo a severe shift. Emotional and psychological trauma is a normal response of our nervous system to events or situations that left us feeling overwhelmed, unsafe and alone.
Any event involving a threat to our life, our safety, our physical body or emotional well being can lead to emotional and psychological trauma. Life-altering events such as accidents, physical or psychological attacks and abuse, natural disasters, battling with a life-threatening illness, surgeries, the loss of a loved one, either through death or a breakup, severe injuries, as well as life experiences that left us feeling humiliated or deeply disappointed, can all lead to post-traumamic symptoms. Trauma does not always have to involve physical harm. Any experience that left someone feeling frightened and helpless can lead to post-traumatic sequels. The deeper the sense of fright and vulnerability experienced, the more likely the sequels will be.
Trauma survivors can experience unsettling emotions. While shock, denial and disbelief are often experienced immediately following the trauma, trauma survivors can be left in a state of hyper-vigilance and increased sensitivity, a constant sense of danger, prompting an uncontrollable need to remain on guard and on alert at all times. Depression, fear, anxiety, low self-esteem, sadness, hopelessness, nightmares and sleep disorders, confusion, difficulty focusing, memory impairment and deficiency are all known side-effects of trauma. Other symptoms include feeling numb, disconnected from life, from others and even from the self, trouble maintaining or forming new relationships, difficulty trusting others, anger, irritability and mood swings, guilt, shame and self-blame.
Trauma can also lead to physical symptoms such as fatigue, tiredness, chronic aches and pain, muscle tension, decreased immune system efficiency leading to heighten susceptibility to viruses, illnesses and infections, headaches, nausea and gastro-intestinal problems.
The emotional toll left behind by trauma can create lasting emotional instability and make it seem difficult for survivors to move on and recover their balance. While it is common to feel as if the world were disintegrating under our feet or as if we were losing our mind, it is important to understand post-traumatic symptoms are a normal reaction to abnormal events. The temporary dysfunction of our mental capacities and emotional balance is due to the heightened focus of our mind around what it perceives as potentially threatening circumstances. When our mind is prompted into a survival-based tunnel vision, it requires so much of our attention and capacities, the rest of our normal processing capabilities are temporarily pushed aside.
Understanding Peritraumatic Dissociation
When we are faced with intense physical harm, fear or terror we are unable to avoid, escape or shield ourselves from, our central nervous system can respond with a self-protective mechanism called peritraumatic dissociation. In a state of dissocation, we find ourselves disconnected from our physical and emotional responses. We are no longer able to feel pain, shed tears, access or express emotions or interact with others.
While dissociation provides a temporarily effective defense mechanism in cases of severe trauma, in the long term however, it is associated with decreased psychological functioning and adjustment and presents a greater risk for chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and post-traumatic symptoms.
To learn more about the nature and side-effects of trauma-related dissociation, refer to our article on peritraumatic dissociation: Understanding Peritraumatic Dissociation.
Addressing Trauma with Hypnotherapy
© GMB ~ Headquartered in Portland, Oregon, Genvièv Martin-Bernard is a Forensic and Clinical Hypnotherapist who consults locally, nationally and internationally. A published author, she serves as Vice-President of the Oregon Hypnotherapy Association and is a professional member of the National Guild of Hypnotists.