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Looking back on life, all of us have good as well as, not-so-good memories of our past. Unpleasant memories tend to create uncomfortable, negative, or painful emotions which stay on for a long time and have the power to affect our present as well as future. This is how emotional trauma feels like- it is the distress that we experience as a result of a highly stressful event, which affects our thoughts and actions. Trauma shapes our perceptions of ourselves, our relationships, and our outlook toward life in general. To help us regain control of our life, it helps to understand how traumatic events are affecting us presently and what steps we can take to break free from them.
What causes trauma?
Emotional trauma is an unpleasant response to a stressful event that is physically or emotionally harmful. Events like natural disasters, rape, and divorce are known to trigger trauma. Some of the incidents which can cause trauma are:
- One-time incidents like an accident or any stressful or harmful event.
- Chronic trauma is caused by stressful experiences occurring continuously over a long time like being in an abusive relationship.
- Multiple stressors occurring together can also contribute to trauma. For example, the death of a parent and being raised by an abusive caregiver.
- Secondary trauma can occur when we are in close contact with those who have experienced trauma like when a close friend loses a loved one.
All these events are perceived as highly stressful and trigger unpleasant emotions as well as physical reactions in those experiencing them.
How does trauma affect us?: Coping with Trauma
Traumatic events can lead to both immediate as well as delayed reactions which can be both emotional and physical in nature. Here are some of the symptoms we need to watch out for to understand our responses to trauma:
|Immediate effects||Long term effects|
|Physical Reactions||Nausea, Shivering or sweating, Dizziness, Palpitations, Exhaustion||Sleep and appetite disturbances, Psychosomatic issues like tension headachesLowered immunityFatigue|
|Emotional Reactions||Numbness or detachment, Fear or anxiety Feelings of anger, sadness, guilt and helplessness. Denial and disorientation, Feeling unreal or out of control||Depression, Anxiety, Panic attacks, Mood swings, Grief and Shame Emotional detachment in relationships|
|Cognitive Reactions||Difficulty focusing, Repetitive thoughts of the event, Racing thoughts, Forgetfulness||Flashbacks Self-blame and pre-occupation with the event, Indecisiveness, Suicidal thoughts, Thoughts of being unsafe and of danger|
|Behavioural Reactions||Restlessness, Avoidance,Excessive use of alcohol, drugs, Frequent arguments||Relationship issues, Social withdrawal, Increased risk-taking, Addictions|
How to cope with emotional trauma?
If left untreated, emotional trauma can create emotional and behavioral disturbances in us in the long run. It helps to understand how stressful events impact us and actively work towards processing our thoughts and reactions to them. The following pointers are meant to act as guiding posts to help heal from traumatic situations:
- Acknowledge: Instead of downplaying, denying, or ignoring the traumatic event, it helps to face the fact that it happened, in order to heal. Acknowledging (to ourselves) the trauma motivates us to do something to feel better and to move on.
- Connect: Be around supportive people and avoid withdrawing even when the motivation to socialize is lacking. It helps to confide in a trusted friend/family member and talk about the stressful event and one’s reactions to it. Socializing helps one to cope better, hence it is important to connect with old friends or make new friends. One may join clubs or classes and network with people having similar interests. Volunteering is also noted to help provide a sense of purpose to one’s life.
- Focus on self-care: Making time for oneself is necessary for healing. Apart from eating healthy and sleeping well, it is important to take up activities of interest, like listening to music, engaging in artwork, pursuing a hobby, etc. Engaging in healthy coping strategies like these would help one move past the distressing event and adds meaning to life.
- Move: Exercise, yoga, dance, and other movement-based mediums are known to be therapeutic in people who have experienced trauma. During these activities, it helps to focus on the body movements and breathing as it helps restore a sense of emotional equilibrium and is calming.
- Meditate: Meditation helps in calming the chatter in our minds. It reduces the overwhelming feelings triggered by traumatic memories and helps us accept and let go of these memories.
- Practice self-compassion: The traumatic event often triggers self-blame and feelings of guilt and helplessness. There is often anger directed inwards and a tendency to judge oneself harshly. It is necessary to let go of these unhelpful emotions and to be kind and forgiving towards oneself in order to move past the event. It helps to accept that one is struggling with the pain and needs time and space to heal.
- Grounding- This is a powerful technique to help people who are traumatized stay focused in the present and regain control over themselves and their surroundings. Sticking to a routine, breath watching, practicing relaxation, and paying attention to the present environment by engaging all of our five senses, are some of the ways we can ground ourselves when we are feeling overwhelmed.
- Seek professional help: Reaching out to a trained psychotherapist or counselor can prove helpful in processing the traumatic event and learning ways to cope with it. A safe and non-judgemental space aids in better emotional expression and recovery. Therapy focuses on helping the person move past the trauma with the help of grounding techniques and specific coping strategies to regulate emotions. Therapy work involves helping the distressed person face their memories, and painful emotions and reframe their self-destructive thoughts.
It is important to keep the faith and believe that memories and the intensity of pain one are currently feeling will fade over time, and healing is possible. If you or your loved one has experienced trauma do not ignore it. Instead, reach out to experts who can support you in this healing process. We at Cadabam’s have a team of trained therapists who can provide you with a safe environment to reclaim your control over your life and help you in coping with childhood trauma or other trauma. Reach out to us for support.
Dr. Nisha Vidyasagar
Consultant Clinical Psychologist