“Beneath the surface of the protective parts of trauma survivors there exists an undamaged essence, a Self that is confident, curious, and calm, a Self that has been sheltered from destruction by the various protectors that have emerged in their efforts to ensure survival. Once those protectors trust that it is safe to separate, the Self will spontaneously emerge, and the parts can be enlisted in the healing process”
― Bessel A. van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Loss of interest in usual activities
Distrust of others
Social Isolation / social conflict
Separate personality modes
Atypical sexual behaviour
WHAT PTSD FEELS LIKE
Trauma is any event that causes someone to think “the world is no longer a safe place.” Even right now, our entire planet is going through a massive collective trauma that is going to have a significant impact on people’s mental health in a variety of ways far into the future. Those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (or PTSD) are affected with symptoms on a daily basis long after the event has subsided. Trauma categories are single event trauma (Type 1) and recurrent prolonged trauma (Type 2). Phases of a traumatic crisis generally include shock phase, reaction phase, work phase, and re-orientation phase.
Depending on the severity of the traumatic event, some people recover with time and through the support of family and friends, bouncing back with great resiliency, but for others, the effects of trauma are lasting, causing a person to live with deep emotional pain, fear, confusion, or post-traumatic stress and depression. In this case, a person may become stuck in the trauma and develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Because of the nature of traumatic memories, memories recall as emotional and sensory, and emotional knowledge and cognitive knowledge are not integrated. Some parts of the event may be remembered in detail, while at the other extreme there might be complete oblivion. It becomes more difficult to process trauma-related observations in the mind and transfer them to a symbolic level, in which case the trauma experience doesn't get linked to previous experiences. Trauma narrows the focus of the person's attention so that they easily notice a potential danger or threat. They remain alert to identify any hint of threat. For this reason, their bodies are in a state of chronic hyper-vigilance. Symptoms of hypersensitivity may include sleep disturbances, flickering, irritability, difficulty concentrating, excessive alertness, being constantly on guard and being unable to lead one's own life, thus remarkably lessening life satisfaction.
In PTSD, you may find your mind will replay the memories and images of the traumatic incident over in your mind as a means of processing and creating meaning out of the event. For a small period of time usually days or weeks, you may experience emotional distress with an increase in anxiety, worry and flashbacks. All of this is a normal reaction to trauma. With time, the memories and images will lose the emotional impact they once had and you will slowly return to normal or close-to-normal functioning where thoughts of the event no longer cause devastating distress. Often this outcome requires intensive trauma work which regrettably is seldom sought or prescribed.
TRAUMA & PTSD
Many of us have experienced some form of trauma in our life whether it be from a car wreck, the sudden death of a loved one, abuse or neglect, illness, natural disaster, or even exposure to violence or war. Trauma can be single event trauma such as a car crash, or prolonged trauma such as an ongoing physical, sexual and emotional abuse. Emotional abuse in particular can be difficult to detect before it has gone on for a long time; often with extremely harmful consequences even across generations.
It may be difficult to know when an event or experience has had a traumatizing effect. Trauma is any experience in which a person feels their own life or the life of another has been threatened, or a person has had to deal with an overwhelming emotion that has changed the brain's way of operating automatic tasks. Even if you have just witnessed a car wreck where someone was injured, killed or could have been killed- this event would likely be experienced as trauma to your brain since a remarkably intense alertness to a possible life-threat suddenly floods your mind.
One form of a more invisible trauma is Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). It could be that our caregivers could or would not care for us physically or emotionally, and so we've learned to minimize our own needs in order to feel safer in the resulting psychological chaos and insecurity. This in turn can cause you to find yourself from situations where you repeat the trauma experience all over again subconsciously since it feels familiar and our brains like familiarity. Attachment traumas often impact our relationships long into adulthood.
Often trauma memories are so intrusive that a person easily develops avoidance in his or her behaviour in order to escape possible strong feelings. The person might seemingly lose interest in everyday activities going back to said avoidance. Dissociation means incapability to connect trauma-related thoughts and emotions together in a meaningful way. Early childhood and Type 2 trauma can result in the composition of different conditions or modes of the self, or even separate identities that may or may not link with each other.
If you know or suspect that you have experienced either Type 1 or 2 trauma that is causing you suffering, contact your doctor to explore the possibility of therapy. Although long-term symptoms of trauma are very common, only a small percent of those with symptoms seek therapeutic help. I'm glad you are reading this now. It might mean you're pondering on asking for help. I'm here whenever you're ready. I can refer you to a trauma specialist in case we discover that further consultation or treatment is needed.
I'M AN ORIGINAL CATCHPHRASE
How Therapy for Trauma Can Help
Cognitive psychoterapy enables trauma sufferers to re-connect thoughts, feelings and reactions so that they can be more aware of their experience and feel in control in a more sensible way. This awareness helps to integrate their physical and emotional experience thus reducing many of the symptoms; their intensity or duration, and making sense of the traumatic experience.
Beyond PTSD, a trauma survivor may need therapeutic help for other trauma results such as depression, substance abuse, relationship conflict, shame, guilt and changes in personality. Treatment may include i.e. individual therapy, couples therapy, medical interventions and lifestyle treatments, and so the full ensemble of care can and should partly overlap.
As a trauma survivor, you've gone through great mental pain, and it is normal that you try to protect yourself from everything that resembles the trauma, as well as possibly from the therapy situation. Experiencing safety and confidence in therapy is a prerequisite for you to have the courage to approach and face your trauma again. I will provide a safe space for you to approach your experiences again, and will check in with you often to reflect on our pace.