Everyone faces difficult life circumstances at some point in their life. These may be terrifying or life-threatening situations or they may be situations that appear on the outside to be less serious, but still leave us profoundly affected. Sometimes, we are able to get through those hard and horrible experiences changed but relatively unscathed. Other times, we can become stuck reliving the trauma or stuck in patterns of behaviour that we developed as a way to try to cope with the after-effects of the trauma. Often the things we do to cope are effective at the start, but over time may seem to work against us.
What makes the difference is how you recover, and the kind of supports you have in your life.
When a person experiences trauma, abuse or neglect early in life, the consequences can run deep. You may have fewer inner resources to deal with the impact. Most people will develop coping strategies designed to help them survive in the best way they know how. Sometimes these coping strategies work well and serve us well throughout our lifetime. Other coping strategies may initially be effective, but either lose their effectiveness over time, or begin to actually have a negative impact on our lives. Sometimes, events that we thought we were ‘over’ start to bother us when we hit a new milestone in our lives.
Having safe, secure relationships with others can help lessen the negative effects of trauma, as can living in a supportive community with access to resources and a sense that our experience and feelings about it is accepted and understood. However, this is not always enough, and different people can react in different ways to the same situation. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have a strong network of loving, supportive understanding family and friends to help us get through difficult times.
Traumatic events can be easy to recognize. Most of us would agree that the following list of events would be horrifying to experience or to witness happening to someone close to us;
- Car Accidents
- Witnessing violence
- Seeing someone die
- Surgery/birth trauma
- Natural Disaster
- Sexual Assault/Child sexual abuse
- Child abuse and neglect
There are other events that can lead to traumatic reactions, but that are less likely to be recognized as traumatic. These could include;
- End of relationship/friendship
- Victim of gossip
- Victim of discrimination
- Workplace stress, harassment, job loss
- Moving or significant change in circumstances
- Illness (acute or chronic)
- Living with ongoing criticism and contempt
Traumatic reactions often include anxiety and depression, which sometimes are not recognized as being trauma-related. There are a number of other indications someone is having a traumatic reaction, including (but not limited to);
- Re-experiencing the trauma through intrusive distressing recollections of the event, flashbacks, and nightmares.
- Emotional numbness and avoidance of places, people, and activities that are reminders of the trauma.
- Increased arousal such as difficulty sleeping and concentrating, feeling jumpy, and being easily irritated and angered.
The good news is that many people can be helped to move past their traumatic past experiences. Some people find that being able to talk about what happened with a supportive, nonjudgmental listener can be helpful. Others find they need help from a professional to feel free of their past experiences. There are a number of therapies that have been found to be effective in reducing trauma symptoms, including cognitive-behaviourally based trauma therapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), as well as such activities as meditation and mindfulness, yoga, neurofeedback, and body-oriented approaches such as sensorimotor psychotherapy.