Trauma is a deeply personal and life-altering experience that can leave individuals feeling lost, confused, and hopeless. As a therapist, I often hear this question from clients who have experienced trauma, unsure if they will ever be able to “move on” or fully heal from the traumatic event or events they have endured.
Definition of Trauma
Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience that can have a lasting impact on an individual’s emotional and physical well-being. According to Bessel van der Kolk, a leading expert in the field of trauma, trauma is “the result of overwhelming experiences that shatter our sense of safety, making us feel helpless and alone.” Trauma can come in many forms, including physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, neglect, accidents, natural disasters, and combat.
Secondary trauma, also known as vicarious trauma, is the emotional and psychological harm that can occur as a result of hearing about or being exposed to the traumatic experiences of others. This affects, but is not limited to, individuals who work in roles such as first responders, therapists, and social workers, who regularly hear about and respond to the traumatic experiences of others.
Impacts of Trauma
When an individual experiences a traumatic event, it can have a significant impact on their nervous system. The body’s natural response to trauma is to go into fight, flight, or freeze mode. This response is designed to protect the individual from further harm, but it can also have long-lasting effects on the body, including increased heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension, as well as changes in the brain that can lead to symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The effects of trauma can be far-reaching and can have a significant impact on an individual’s life. Trauma survivors may experience symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, emotional numbing, and feelings of guilt or shame. They may also have difficulty trusting others and forming close relationships, as well as experience physical symptoms such as chronic pain, headaches, and fatigue.
Less noticeable symptoms of trauma
Trauma can manifest in a variety of ways, and some symptoms may be less obvious than others. Here are a few examples of symptoms of trauma that might not be immediately apparent:
Physical symptoms: Trauma can manifest as physical symptoms such as chronic pain, headaches, and stomach problems.
Self-destructive behavior: Trauma survivors may engage in self-destructive behaviors such as substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and self-harm.
Difficulty with intimacy: Trauma survivors may have difficulty with intimacy and trusting others, which can negatively impact relationships.
Difficulty with self-care: Trauma can make it difficult for survivors to take care of themselves, leading to poor hygiene, lack of sleep, and neglect of physical health.
Difficulty with concentration: Trauma can make it difficult for survivors to focus and concentrate, which can negatively impact work and school performance.
Avoidance behaviors: Trauma survivors may go to great lengths to avoid certain people, places, or things that remind them of the traumatic event, which can greatly limit their daily life.
It’s important to note that everyone is different, and trauma can affect people in different ways, these are just examples of some less obvious symptoms.
Stages of Trauma Recovery
The Extended Transformational Model is a widely accepted framework for understanding the stages of recovery from trauma. According to this model, there are three stages of recovery: the acute stage, the intermediate stage, and the long-term stage.
In the acute stage, the individual is in a state of shock and may be experiencing a range of symptoms such as disbelief, numbness, and disorientation. They may also be struggling with feelings of guilt and shame, and may be avoiding anything that reminds them of the traumatic event. They may also have difficulty sleeping, eating, and may have difficulty focusing. Signs that someone may be starting to heal during this stage include a decrease in avoidance behaviors and an ability to talk about the traumatic event without feeling overwhelmed.
In the intermediate stage, the individual may begin to feel more in control of their emotions and may be less reactive to triggers. They may also begin to develop coping strategies to help them manage their symptoms. They may be able to return to some of their normal activities, but still feel a sense of emotional distance from others. Signs that someone may be starting to heal during this stage include a decrease in symptoms such as anxiety and depression, and an increase in self-care behaviors.
In the long-term stage, the individual has integrated their traumatic experience into their life story and has a sense of closure. They have developed a new sense of self and have a renewed sense of meaning and purpose. They are able to look back at their experience without feeling overwhelmed and can talk about it without feeling emotional distress. Signs that someone may be starting to heal during this stage include a sense of acceptance and peace, and an ability to move forward with their life.
Signs You Are Recovering From Trauma
As an individual begins to heal from trauma, they may start to notice signs of progress such as feeling more in control of their emotions, having fewer nightmares or flashbacks, and experiencing less physical pain. It’s important to understand that healing from trauma is a personal journey and that everyone’s experience is different. There are many different ways to heal from trauma, including therapy, medication, support groups, and self-care practices.
Reasons You May Be Stuck In Recovering From Trauma
There are several reasons why someone might stay stuck in trauma recovery. Here are a few examples:
Lack of support: Trauma recovery can be a difficult and isolating process, and having a strong support system in place can make a significant difference. Without adequate support, a person may feel overwhelmed and give up on recovery.
Fear of facing the trauma: Trauma recovery often involves facing and processing the traumatic event, which can be a daunting and terrifying prospect. A person may avoid recovery out of fear of re-experiencing the trauma or of being overwhelmed by emotions.
Difficulty accessing resources: Trauma recovery may require specialized treatment, such as therapy or medication, which can be difficult to access due to financial constraints or a lack of available providers in a person’s area.
Difficulty in trusting others: Trauma can damage trust in others, making it hard for a person to trust professionals or loved ones who may be trying to help.
Difficulty in identifying and managing emotions: Trauma can make it hard for a person to understand and express their own emotions, which can make it hard to engage in effective self-care and therapy.
Lack of understanding: Trauma may not be understood or acknowledged by the person themselves, or by those around them, which can make it hard to recognize the need for recovery or to access appropriate resources.
Persistent negative beliefs: Trauma can make a person develop negative beliefs about themselves and their capabilities, such as feeling guilty, ashamed or worthless. These beliefs can make it hard to move forward and can be an obstacle for recovery.
Many people who have experienced trauma may also minimize the impact of their experience and may feel that they “had it not that bad” and this can prevent them from addressing what had happened, and processing through their experience. This can be particularly true for individuals who have experienced “complex” trauma, such as prolonged abuse or neglect, which can be difficult to recognize or understand.
It’s important to note that everyone is different and the reasons for someone staying stuck in trauma recovery can be multifaceted. Professional help from therapist can be particularly helpful in this situation to identify specific reasons and support an individual in working through them.
Ways To Heal From Trauma
There are many different ways to recover from trauma, and the most effective approach will depend on the individual’s specific needs and circumstances. Some common ways to heal from trauma include:
Psychotherapy: Talking to a therapist can help an individual process their traumatic experience and develop coping strategies to manage their symptoms. This can include different types of therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, which can help individuals change negative thought patterns, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) which can help an individual process traumatic memories.
Medication: Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can help reduce symptoms of trauma such as anxiety and depression.
Mindfulness-based therapies: Mindfulness-based therapies such as yoga and meditation can help individuals become more aware of their thoughts and emotions, and develop a greater sense of self-awareness.
Body-based therapies: Body-based therapies such as somatic experiencing and EMDR can help individuals become more aware of the physical sensations associated with their traumatic experience and develop a greater sense of self-awareness.
Support groups: Joining a support group can provide individuals with a sense of connection and validation, and can help them feel less alone in their experience.
It is possible to fully recover from trauma and it does not mean forgetting what has happened to you completely. Complete trauma recovery is integrating and fully processing the experienced trauma to a point of which it does not bring strong emotional distress with it. The goal for trauma recovery is having the event or time of events feel like looking back at a picture in time compared to being triggered, affected, or controlled by them in your present life.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the aftermath of trauma, it’s important to reach out for help. Remember that healing from trauma is a unique and personal journey, and what works for one person may not work for another. In working with a therapist, it is crucial to find the right approach to healing that works best for you.
At Coastal Therapy & Wellness, our team of experienced therapists are dedicated to helping individuals heal from trauma and regain control of their lives. We offer a range of evidence-based treatment options, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, EMDR, and mindfulness-based therapies, to help you work through your traumatic experience and develop the skills and strategies you need to move forward.
Coastal Therapy & Wellness is committed to providing personalized and effective therapy services. We understand that every person’s needs are unique and that’s why we conduct a thorough assessment both during the consultation call and the first few therapy sessions. This allows us to determine if our practice is the right fit for each client and which therapist would be the best match for their specific needs. By conducting this assessment, we ensure that our clients receive the highest quality of care and the best chance for success in their therapy journey. Furthermore, we use modern technology to track client progress and feedback in order to help each therapist adjust their approach to their client’s specific needs.
If you or someone you know is struggling with the aftermath of trauma, please reach out to us at Coastal Therapy & Wellness. We are here to support you on your journey to healing and recovery and offer a free consultation call so you can find out if we are a great fit for helping you achieve your goals. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us!