basics for understanding psychological trauma


What is trauma?

The vast majority of adults will experience at least one traumatic event in their lives. Some people experience many. The most basic definition of trauma is wound. We all are healing from wounds from the past. Trauma is a past experience that still creates negative effects in the present that the individual considers disturbing.  

How common is it?

Research estimates that up to 90% of adults have experienced a traumatic event in which their own safety or the safety of a loved one was intensely threatened. Observing or learning about others experiencing trauma also has a dramatic impact on the brain and nervous system. Of people experiencing or witnessing trauma, about one fifth will develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. That means that about 8 million adults in the US have PTSD. Most people with PTSD never have it identified and treated. 

How does trauma exposure and PTSD impact people?

The most basic, primal and powerful component of our nervous system are the parts of our brain designed for survival. Our systems are set to instinctively look for threats and problems, and then to sound the alarm when danger is detected. This is commonly called the fight or flight response, and can be very taxing on our resources- resulting in exhaustion and breakdown if the alarm system is triggered too often. Exposure to trauma can change the way people think, experience emotions, have relationships, dream, and feel connected or disconnected to the world and a sense of meaning. When people develop ongoing uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, and memories connected with traumatic events, it is common to develop behaviors designed to manage this pain. These behaviors often have unintended negative side effects, are frequently misunderstood, and often stigmatized due to lack of understanding.   

What can I do about it?

Start by being open minded and curious about the ways trauma has impacted you, your family, your workplace and your neighborhood. Know that there is hope and that people do get better once they understand what they are dealing with and how it affects people. As with most issues there are different ways to address these: social support, therapy services, education, and medical services. Mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga have been shown to be highly effective in helping to rewire a nervous system that is stuck on high alert.

Are there specific treatments for trauma?

Trauma informed care is one of the biggest focal points in psychology and in all of health care. Exposure to trauma as a child is one of the biggest determinants of overall physical and mental health as an adult. Trauma effects all our systems: nervous system, endocrine systems and immune systems. Chronic unmanaged stress of any kind makes it more likely that you will become sick, experience chronic pain, develop addictions or have symptoms of mental illnesses. 

What things can people do to better manage stress?

Start by paying attention to your own routines and attitudes about addressing your own needs for connection, nutrition, rest, exercise, fun and accomplishment. Notice what things seem out of balance. Self care is not selfish, it is only taking care of the only thing you have to offer anyone else. If you would like more help in setting up stress management or trauma recovery services and trainings, call today 704-526-8242.