Trauma can be a difficult condition to deal with and the effects of it can effect every aspect of your life. Moreover, it often doesn’t just affect you because it can affect your interactions with other people. Often one of the barriers to healing from trauma is not knowing what it is, which can limit the usefulness of trauma resources.
What is Trauma?
You experience trauma when your nervous system gets overwhelmed. The nervous system can become overwhelmed from too much too soon, too much for too long, and not enough for too long. When the nervous system is overwhelmed, things (emotions, thoughts, self-beliefs, etc.) do not get stored or processed in the brain properly, and everyday things trigger them to manifest like they are happening in the present when the emotion, physical sensation, and/or perception is actually coming from the past. Not all trauma reaches the level of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but all trauma has the potential to cause suffering.
Traumatic memories are “less likely to be recalled in a clear, coherent narrative” and more likely to be “remembered in the form of sensory elements without words, ” such as emotions, changes in breathing or heart rate, body sensations, tensing, or feelings overwhelmed (Fisher, 2021).
Symptoms of Trauma
- Decreased concentration
- Anxiety, panic attacks
- Headaches, chronic pain
- Loss of sense of “who I am”
- Emotional overwhelm, mood swings, emotion dysregulation
- Shame, guilt, self-blame and worthlessness
- Nightmares, flashbacks
- Substance abuse, eating disorders, self-destructive behaviour
- Feeling unreal, out of body
- Hypervigilance, mistrust
- Denial, disbelief, shock
- Few or no memories
- Loss of a sense of the future, hopelessness
- Loss of interest in things you used to enjoy
- Isolation, withdrawing from others
What Works Best for Trauma?
Trauma can be very individual and unique. So what works for one person may not work for another.
Trauma therapy should involve some type of retraining of the brain through the overcoming or changing of beliefs that are preventing the natural healing process of the brain and nervous system to operate properly. This retraining can be done through cognitive, somatic, and/or mindfulness techniques. Two therapeutic modalities that are evidence-based for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are Cognitive Processing Therapy and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy. Other trauma therapies have worked for other people and can be effective but do not have the same amount of research to get them to the level that is needed to be considered evidence-based.
Trauma Resources: Recommended Reading
Peter A. Levine – Healing Trauma
This book has a good summary of trauma plus it comes with a CD that has 12 Guided Somatic Experiencing exercises.
Bessel Van der Kolk – The Body Keeps the Score
This is an incredible book that describes the experience of trauma, how trauma affects the brain, and different treatments for trauma that have been successful. Bessel Van der Kolk is one of the top experts in trauma. This book has been an NYT bestseller and can probably be borrowed from your local library.
Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma – Janina Fisher
This is an incredible workbook that has the essential psychoeducation about trauma as well as step-by-step strategies to start to heal the trauma and cope better with triggers. Janina Fisher is one of the top experts on trauma.
Getting Unstuck from PTSD – Patricia A. Resick, Shannon Wiltsey Stirman, and Stefanie T. LoSavio
This is a self-help workbook that is based on Cognitive Processing Therapy, which is an evidence-based psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder.
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