What is trauma?

When many people think of trauma, they think of war, car accidents, and events that cause loss of life or casualties. Whilst these are examples of traumatic events, trauma is more than this.

Trauma is defined by an event, or a series of events, that leads to complete overwhelm of an individuals’ ability to cope, affecting their nervous system, their brain, and their body.

Trauma is individualised and can include events where the individual feels:

  • Scared
  • Under threat
  • Shamed
  • Humiliated
  • Rejected
  • Unsafe
  • Unsupported
  • Hopeless
  • Powerless
  • Rejected
  • Abandoned
  • Invalidated

Trauma can be, but isn’t limited to:

  • A one-off event
  • A series of events
  • Witnessing harm to someone else
  • Being harmed or threatened with harm
  • Living in a traumatic environment
  • Being affected by trauma within the family or community
  • Generational

Trauma Types

There are different types of trauma, including acute trauma, which results from a single event, and complex trauma, which involves prolonged or repetitive traumatic experiences, often occurring during childhood, such as in cases of abuse or neglect. Trauma can manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a specific mental illness that develops after a traumatic event and is characterised by symptoms such as intrusive memories, flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, hyperarousal, and emotional numbing.

The effects of trauma may impact various aspects of a person’s life, including their mental health, relationships, work or school performance and overall quality of life. It can lead to difficulties in regulating emotions, problems with memory and concentration, sleep disturbances, mood swings, anxiety, depression and a heightened sensitivity to potential threats. Trauma can also have physical symptoms, such as chronic pain, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and a weakened immune system.

While the symptoms and effects of trauma may have some commonalities amongst everyone, no two people will share the same symptoms and effects.

The impact of trauma can vary depending on multiple factors and will vary from person to person. Seeking professional help can be crucial in understanding and addressing the effects of trauma and facilitating the healing process.

Symptoms of PTSD and CPTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) are two related mental illnesses that can occur after experiencing trauma. While they share some similar symptoms, CPTSD is typically associated with repeated or prolonged trauma, such as childhood abuse or neglect. Here are the some of the symptoms of both disorders:

PTSD Symptoms:

  1. Intrusive memories: Distressing and vivid recollections of the traumatic event, often triggered by reminders.
  2. Flashbacks: Feeling as if the traumatic event is happening again, accompanied by intense emotions and physical sensations.
  3. Nightmares: Repeated and distressing dreams related to the traumatic event.
  4. Avoidance: Efforts to avoid triggers associated with the trauma, such as people, places, activities, or conversations.
  5. Hypervigilance: A heightened state of alertness, constantly scanning the environment for potential threats.
  6. Negative mood and thoughts: Persistent negative emotions, guilt, shame, or distorted beliefs about oneself or the world.
  7. Emotional numbness: Feeling detached from others, losing interest in previously enjoyable activities, or experiencing a limited range of emotions.
  8. Sleep disturbances: Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless and disturbed sleep.
  9. Irritability and anger: Outbursts of anger, irritability, or aggressive behaviour.
  10. Hyperarousal: Being easily startled, having difficulty concentrating, and experiencing an exaggerated startle response.

CPTSD Symptoms (in addition to the above):

  1. Emotional dysregulation: Severe and persistent difficulty in managing or regulating emotions, leading to intense emotional reactions or mood swings.
  2. Interpersonal difficulties: Problems in forming and maintaining healthy relationships, distrust, social isolation, or difficulties with boundaries.
  3. Distorted self-perception: A negative self-image, feelings of shame, guilt, or a persistent sense of being damaged or flawed.
  4. Identity disturbance: A fragmented or unstable sense of self, confusion about one’s values, goals, or life purpose.
  5. Somatic symptoms: Physical complaints such as chronic pain, gastrointestinal issues, headaches, or other unexplained medical conditions.
  6. Dissociation: Feeling disconnected from oneself, the world, or one’s surroundings, often as a coping mechanism to escape distressing emotions or memories.
  7. Suicidal thoughts: Intense feelings of hopelessness, despair, or suicidal ideation may occur in severe cases.

10 Trauma Coping Strategies

Coping strategies play a crucial role in helping individuals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) manage their symptoms and improve their overall wellbeing. Here are some coping strategies that may help:

  1. Seek professional help: Consider working with a mental health professional who specialises in trauma to receive proper guidance, support, and evidence-based treatment.
  2. Practice self-care: Prioritise self-care activities that promote relaxation, reduce stress, and enhance wellbeing. This may include getting regular exercise, eating nutritious meals, practicing mindfulness or meditation, engaging in hobbies or activities that bring joy, and ensuring adequate sleep.
  3. Establish a support system: Surround yourself with supportive and understanding individuals who can provide emotional support and validation. Connect with friends, family members, or support groups where you can share your experiences and receive empathy and encouragement.
  4. Learn relaxation techniques: Practice relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, or yoga to reduce anxiety and promote a sense of calm.
  5. Develop grounding techniques: Grounding techniques help anchor yourself in the present moment and can be particularly useful during times of distress or when experiencing flashbacks. Examples include focusing on your senses, such as noticing objects around you, feeling the texture of an object, or listening to calming sounds.
  6. Challenge negative thoughts: Recognise and challenge negative thoughts or self-blame that may arise due to the trauma. Work on developing more balanced and realistic thinking patterns through cognitive behavioural therapy techniques.
  7. Create a safety plan: Develop a safety plan that includes strategies to manage triggers or situations that may cause distress. Identify coping mechanisms, supportive contacts, and resources to turn to when feeling overwhelmed.
  8. Engage in creative outlets: Expressive arts, such as writing, drawing, painting, or playing music, can serve as therapeutic outlets for processing emotions and experiences related to the trauma.
  9. Establish routines: Establishing structured routines and daily schedules can provide a sense of stability and predictability, which can be helpful in managing symptoms.
  10. Practice self-compassion: Be kind and compassionate toward yourself. Acknowledge that healing takes time and that you are doing the best you can. Treat yourself with patience, understanding, and self-care.

It’s important to note that coping strategies can vary for each individual, and it is important to find what works best for you. 

If you have experienced trauma, you’re not alone in this. Reach out to us here; there is no shame in struggle. 

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