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When it comes to trauma, most people assume big and catastrophic events like natural disasters, car accidents, military combat, terrorist attacks, sexual assault, et cetera. However, traumatic events are not always so extreme or life-threating. Trauma can also be caused by experiences that are relatively smaller-scale, highly personal, and chronically distressing. Examples include verbal or emotional abuse, infidelity, financial worries, non-life-threatening injuries or chronic pain, and more. Furthermore, for those who work in caregiving professions, trauma may occur vicariously through repeated exposure to trauma survivors.
Given the various forms trauma can take, many people will experience its effects at some point in their lives. Generally speaking, it will result in persistent challenges across multiple dimensions.
COMMON REACTIONS INCLUDE
- Physical: exhaustion, restlessness, fidgeting, jumpiness, sleep disturbances (oversleeping, insomnia, nightmares), muscle tension, digestive issues, cold hands or feet, racing heart
- Emotional: fear, sadness, anger, numbness, shame, guilt, grief, resentment
- Mental: intrusive memories ("flashbacks"), paranoia, dissociation, confusion, memory disturbances, negative beliefs about self or others
- Behavioral: avoidance of triggers, hypervigilance or always being on the lookout for threats, fight/flight/freeze responses, extreme people-pleasing
All of these are normal and naturally distressing to experience. Digging into the trauma and effects may prove difficult for survivors for various reasons. Frequently, responses like minimizing, avoiding denial try to protect survivors from losing control, experiencing discomfort, or getting into additional danger. In some cases, individuals may turn to harmful techniques to try to cope, including: substance abuse, high-risk or self-injurious behaviors, disordered eating, excessive engagement in activities like shopping or working, and more.
HOW THERAPY CAN HELP
Trauma treatment often begins by strengthening one's ability to soothe intense emotional and physical responses. Survivors may learn how to identify their triggers and compile tools that allow them to calm their body, tend to their emotions, and effectively shift their harmful thoughts or behaviors. As treatment continues, a therapist and survivor work together to heal deeper wounds to the identity, self-esteem, sense of safety and hope, ability to connect with and trust others, and more.