In my therapy office in Kansas City, “trauma” can refer to an event, resulting stress, and/or long-term effects a person experiences. Assessing trauma involves asking questions about exposures to life-threatening events and their aftermath.
ASSESSING TRAUMATIC EVENTS
Traumatic experiences cause our brains to react emotionally and physiologically as if we are facing life-threatening danger. Our brains react this way to a range of experiences. Anything that our brains perceive as too much, too soon, like a tornado, robbery, assault, threat, explosion, rape, or so on will likely have a traumatic response. Similarly, these reactions are common when events are perceived as too much for too long. Examples of this might be emotional abuse, chronic illness, repeatedly hearing about or seeing hardships experienced by others, and more. Also, trauma and its effects can result from perceived experiences of having too little for too long. Common examples of this may be ongoing neglect, long-lasting financial hardship, et cetera.
ASSESSING RESULTING TRAUMATIC STRESS
When trauma occurs, our brains react by holding onto information that seems relevant for survival. Holding onto aspects of a traumatic situation can be distressing for an individual. This distress may result in intrusive memories, dreams, and/or intense reactions to reminders of the traumatic event. One may have flashbacks when they feel as though the traumatic experience is happening again when it is not. Extreme flashbacks will likely cause a person to lose awareness of their current surroundings.
Because these reminders are distressing, traumatized individuals often make efforts to avoid reminders altogether. A person might try to avoid thoughts, memories, feelings, people, places, activities, objects, conversations, or other reminders of the traumatic event altogether.
Changes in our brain’s functioning can result from traumatic distress. It may be difficult to remember important parts of a traumatic event. Negative beliefs about oneself, others, or the world such as “I am ruined,” or “no one is safe,” or “the world is horrible,” may recur or amplify. Increased blame, fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame often follow a traumatic experience. One might feel distant from others and/or lose interest in activities. Another change could be an inability to feel positive emotions like happiness, satisfaction, or love. Some people repeatedly feel like they or the world is distorted or unreal.
Some behaviors worsen or begin after a traumatic event. Such behaviors include angry outbursts like verbal or physical aggressiveness. Reckless or self-destructive behavior may result. You might spend excessive efforts looking out for signs of danger or threats. Difficulties with concentration and sleep are common. One could also exhibit an intensified startle response.
ASSESSING LONG-TERM EFFECTS OF TRAUMA
It is important to understand how a traumatic situation and resulting distress impact one’s life. If going to work, socializing, taking care of oneself, or other important areas of functioning are impaired by traumatic distress, treatment may be necessary.
Trauma is common. There are many experiences that can be too overwhelming for us to process instantaneously. Fortunately, we have a better understanding of trauma and how it can impact our brains, bodies, and lives. There are also treatments available to help you. At Heartland Therapy Connection, we specialize in treating trauma. We will help you learn skills to reduce the intensity of your distress and shift your functioning from survival to recovery. If you have questions or are wanting help to start living the life you want to live, then contact us today! We believe we are all #betterconnected and look forward to helping you!