Emotional Trauma: How to recover and become resilient?
Published Sep 25, 2023 • By Somya Pokharna
Emotional trauma can take root in a single agonizing moment or build up slowly, over a lifetime. Sometimes, it can hijack the mind, leaving a person haunted by their memories, battling anxiety, or feeling disconnected from the world.
Luckily, healing is possible, and understanding the impact of trauma and recognizing its signs is the first step.
So, what causes emotional trauma, and how does it manifest? What are some ways to start healing and build resilience?
Let’s take a closer look in this article!
What is emotional trauma?
Emotional trauma can arise from any life event that endangers one's safety or the safety of those around them, leaving the individual feeling overwhelmed, helpless and vulnerable. It can cause significant and persistent emotional, psychological, and physical distress that temporarily disrupts normal functioning in daily life. Individuals may not only experience upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety but also a sense of emotional numbness, disconnection, and difficulty trusting others.
The deciding factor is the individual's emotional experience of the event, even if it did not involve any physical harm. The more afraid someone feels, the higher the likelihood of experiencing trauma.
What causes trauma?
Trauma knows no limitations when it comes to age, gender, socioeconomic background, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. It is a shared experience among individuals of all these demographics, and it is particularly prevalent in the lives of those dealing with mental health issues and substance use disorders.
A traumatic event can also take many forms. It can be an isolated incident, such as:
- Experiencing sudden and unexpected personal tragedies or losses, like the death of someone close,
- Living through a humiliating or deeply unsettling event,
- Dealing with a chronic or terminal illness,
- Witnessing or being caught in an accident or a natural disaster,
- Becoming a victim to a crime or an act of violence, or
- Surviving a physical or sexual assault.
In some cases, even repeated exposure to disturbing images, news reports, or social media posts related to traumatic events can cause secondary traumatic stress or “second-hand trauma.”
Individuals are more susceptible to trauma if they are currently experiencing significant stress or have a history of previous trauma, especially that which occurred at a young age and disrupted their sense of safety as a child, such as:
- Growing up in an unstable or dangerous living environment
- Experiencing separation from or abandonment by a parent or caregiver
- Facing neglect or a lack of essential care
- Coping with a serious illness affecting the child or a loved one
- Undergoing invasive medical procedures
- Experiencing sexual, physical, or verbal abuse
- Witnessing or being subjected to domestic violence
The consequences of childhood trauma can be profound and enduring. When it remains unresolved, feelings of fear, anxiety and powerlessness can persist into adulthood, potentially predisposing individuals to further trauma.
How to recognize trauma?
Emotional and psychological trauma can manifest in a variety of signs and symptoms. There are several mental, physical, and behavioral indicators that can help individuals recognize whether they or someone they know is experiencing trauma.
Mental and emotional reactions to trauma may include:
- Having trouble concentrating on and remembering things
- Having recurring intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event
- Continuously replaying aspects of the event in one's mind
- Feeling confused, disconnected, or disoriented
- Experiencing intense fear, anxiety, and panic
- Being in a state of shock and struggling to accept the reality of what occurred
- Becoming emotionally numb and detached
- Avoiding social connections with others and withdrawing from loved ones
- Being in a constant state of alarm and sensing ongoing danger
- Going through depression, avoidance, guilt, oversensitivity, and withdrawal.
Physically, a traumatized person may exhibit the following:
- Constant exhaustion or fatigue
- Difficulty falling asleep or disrupted sleep patterns accompanied by nightmares
- Headaches, dizziness, and nausea
- Excessive sweating
- Increased heart rate
- Change in appetite (eating a lot more or a lot less),
- Dependency on substances like alcohol, drugs and coffee
How to cope with trauma and foster resilience?
Coping with trauma and fostering resilience can be challenging, but it is an essential process for returning to normal life. The following are some steps and strategies to navigate this journey:
Seeking Professional Help
It is strongly recommended to seek the guidance of a mental health professional such as trauma therapists, psychiatrists, or trauma-focused programs. Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can be highly effective in addressing trauma.
Building a Support Network
Connecting with friends and family who can offer emotional support and sharing experiences and feelings with trusted individuals can be therapeutic.
Joining Support Groups
Support groups, whether in-person or online, provide a safe space to connect with others who have experienced similar traumas. They offer validation, understanding, and coping strategies.
Regular self-care activities like exercise, meditation, deep breathing, and relaxation techniques can help regulate emotions and reduce stress. Mindfulness practices can help stay grounded in the present moment and reduce anxiety.
It is crucial to maintain a balanced diet, get adequate sleep, and avoid excessive alcohol or substance use. These factors can significantly impact your mental and emotional well-being.
Limiting Exposure to Triggers
It can be helpful to avoid or limit exposure to triggers that remind the individual of the traumatic event. This may include news stories, certain places, or people associated with the trauma.
Keeping a journal can be a valuable tool for processing thoughts and feelings, self-reflecting and tracking one’s progress.
Professional Help for Physical Symptoms
Consulting with a healthcare provider for treatment can sometimes be necessary to deal with the physical symptoms of trauma, like chronic pain.
Healing from trauma takes time. It is, therefore, important to be patient with oneself and acknowledge that progress may come in small steps, and that it’s okay to experience anger, sadness, and fear sometimes.
Emotional trauma is a deeply impactful experience that can affect individuals from all walks of life and affect their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Its origins can be diverse, from single shocking incidents to prolonged exposure to distressing circumstances.
Recognizing trauma is the first step toward healing, as it manifests in cognitive, emotional, and physical symptoms. Coping with trauma and fostering resilience necessitates seeking professional help, building a support network, and joining support groups. Practicing self-care, maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and limiting exposure to triggers are also vital components of recovery.
Healing is a gradual process that requires patience and self-compassion. By embracing these strategies, individuals can regain a sense of control, rebuild their lives, and move forward with strength and resilience.
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