Trauma is our distressed reaction to events that occurred outside the range of our usual, everyday experiences. It can be man-made or have natural causes.
Man-made trauma include emotional, physical and sexual abuse, combat and war, auto, truck or boat accidents, or witnessing someone else being assaulted, harassed, or injured.
Natural traumatic events include floods, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions.
Medical trauma include severe complications giving birth, delivering a child who has birth defects, being diagnosed with cancer or other serious medical issues.
People react to traumatic events very similarly, or, very differently. One person can be very traumatized from watching newsreel from the attacks on 9/11. Some are able to view them and experience mild discomfort, while others have to leave the room or change the channel.
Traumas can arise from the loss of a loved one, through a breakup, separation or divorce, while another person can feel relief, with no trauma attached to it.
How Your Body Responds to Trauma
When you experience a traumatic event, your body may respond by going through a sequence of six different actions. Many you have heard of the “fight or flight response”. This occurs in you when you are experiencing fear or an actual or perceived threat.
Each action is thought to be your body’s way of trying to protect you from potential harm. You may experience the full sequence of events or only part of it, depending on the situation. The response varies depending on how severe you think the threat is in relation to your own power to take action.
Trauma Response No. 1: Freeze and Do Nothing
During the freeze response, your body stops to heighten your awareness of what’s going on around you. Your hearing and vision will likely seem heightened as your brain attempts to gauge how threatening the situation is.
Trauma Response No. 2: Flight and take off
Once you’ve perceived that a situation is threatening, your body goes into an “alert” mode. Your muscles tense up and your body readies itself to flee if necessary.
Trauma Response No. 3: Fight to protect yourself
The third response many people experience in a traumatic situation is to feel like fighting or confronting the situation or perpetrator. Your heart rate will increase and you may attempt to counteract the danger.
Trauma Response No. 4: Fright of the event
The fright response occurs when your emotions peak with the feeling of fear and your ability to think or concentrate becomes limited. Your body may become immobile, and parts of the event may start to be “blocked out” as you come to realize that there may be no way to escape or counter the situation.
Trauma Response No. 5: Flag
The flagging response is when your biological systems begin to shut down, your blood pressure drops, and your emotions become numbed.
Trauma Response No. 6: Faint
The final response to trauma is fainting, which happens in extreme cases and includes losing the ability to send any messages to your body to take action.
Our brains hold onto trauma and rarely let it go.
Survivors of sexual assault, they often mention experiencing the first or fourth responses and describe feeling frozen or dissociated to the violence happening to their bodies.
Trauma survivors often say they aren’t able to remember the entire traumatic event, which makes sense.
When you’re scared, unable to concentrate, and your body’s systems are shutting down, it’s highly unlikely that you will remember everything that is going on or recall the order in which things happened. Other people, however, can remember vivid details about the event but still may notice gaps or have trouble accurately describing what happened.
Therapy may not be able to help you fill in all the missing pieces as a result of the trauma, but it can help piece together a fuller image of your life and create greater clarity about where the trauma fits within the bigger picture.
Although your body is designed to protect you during a trauma, your brain might be sending unhelpful messages that keep your body in constant protection mode long after the trauma is over. If left untreated, you can post-traumatic stress disorder.
It’s almost as if your brain thinks if it can hold on to those bits and pieces of scary memories and not let go of all the feelings after a traumatic experience, maybe you will stay safe and not get hurt again.
Constantly remembering the event and feeling fearful, suspicious, numb, and hyper-vigilant can be exhausting and frustrating. This is when you should call a licensed therapist who specializes in trauma.
The difference between PTSD and a normal response to trauma:
When your sense of safety and trust has been shattered by a traumatic event, it’s normal for the mind and body to be in shock. It’s also common to have bad dreams, insomnia, intrusive memories, flashbacks, (causing you to re-experience the traumatic event), intense physical reactions to reminders of the event (ie a pounding heart, profuse sweating, feelings of being choked, etc.).
Avoiding activities, people and places and feelings that remind you of the trauma are common. So is the inability to recall certain aspects of the event.
Mood changes are common, as well. You can shift from being slightly grumpy to having anger outbursts at things or others. The anxiety blocks your ability to concentrate and to take in new information. You can be easily startled, even if you are by yourself.
Here’s the good news: PTSD is highly-treatable. I use the most current tool in treating PTSD. I use EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), a technique that has been shown to treat and sometimes eradicate trauma memories and the symptoms of PTSD. It is backed by many years of research and clinical studies, and is at the forefront of treatment for PTSD and trauma.
By meeting and talking with me, and incorporating EMDR, you can process the traumatic events, at your own pace, in a safe place. I have worked with many trauma clients and have had much success in treating them. I’d like to help you, too. Feel free to call or email me today. Why wait to get started?