Trauma is a difficult experience that can have lasting effects on a person's mental health and well-being. While it is normal to experience a range of emotions after a traumatic event, some people may continue to struggle with unresolved trauma long after the event has passed. Many people may not even be aware that they are still suffering from post-traumatic stress! In this article we will discuss what trauma is and 4 signs that you may be struggling with unresolved trauma.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is an emotional response to a distressing, disturbing, or overwhelming event that is often characterized by feelings of fear, helplessness, and distress. Some examples of traumatic events include natural disasters, wars, terrorist attacks, mass shootings, car accidents, rape, assault, physical or emotional abuse, and other experiences that affect our sense of safety. Trauma can have long-lasting effects on a person's mental health, and if left unresolved, can impact daily functioning and quality of life.
"Trauma is not what happens to you. Trauma is what happens inside you as a result of what happens to you" - Dr. Gabor Maté
Many people think that traumatic events are big, life or death events, such as many of the ones listed above. However, it is important to note that trauma can occur from more subtle, chronic, events such as emotional neglect as a child, divorce, infidelity, grief/loss, bullying or harassment, family conflict or financial strain. Because remember- trauma can occur from anything that elicits a distressing response inside of us. And people have different capacities to handle distress so what may be traumatic for one person, may not be for another. In this regard, it's important to not compare traumas or judge the event that leads to trauma, but rather to pay attention to the impact of the traumatic event.
Signs of Unresolved Trauma
There are many signs that you may be dealing with unresolved trauma, and the first step on your journey to healing your physical and mental wellbeing is learning to recognize the signs of unresolved trauma. Below we will explore four signs of unresolved trauma, but remember that there are many other signs and symptoms not mentioned here as well.
1. Persistent Intense Emotions And Emotional Dysregulation
One of the most common signs of unresolved trauma is the experience of persistent and intense emotions or emotional dysregulation. Trauma can trigger a range of emotional responses, including anxiety, shame, fear, anger, or sadness. These emotions can be overwhelming, and you may feel as though you are unable to control or regulate them which can lead to intense or extreme emotional responses. You may find that you experience these emotions in response to specific triggers, such as certain places or people, or they may be present all the time.
For example, someone who has experienced a car accident may feel intense fear and anxiety whenever they get behind the wheel of a car, even if they were not injured in the accident. Another example might be if someone experienced a traumatic event in which they felt helpless or powerless, they may feel intense anger and have difficulty controlling their anger in everyday situations. These emotional responses can be distressing and can interfere with a person's ability to maintain healthy relationships or engage in normal daily activities.
2. Avoidance Behaviours
Another sign of unresolved trauma is the tendency to engage in avoidance behaviours. After experiencing trauma, you may feel an intense desire to avoid anything that reminds you of the traumatic event. This may include avoiding specific people, places, or situations that trigger memories or emotions related to the trauma. You may also avoid talking about the trauma or engaging in activities that you used to enjoy, which can lead to social isolation and feelings of depression.
For example, someone who has experienced a sexual assault may avoid going out alone or to the place the assault occurred. Alternatively, someone who has experienced combat trauma may avoid loud noises, crowded places, or anything that reminds them of their time in combat. On a more subtle scale, for those who grew up in chaotic and abusive homes may avoid interacting with people who have loud or assertive tones as it can be triggering to parents who had a tendency to yell.
Avoidance behaviours can be limiting and can prevent you from fully participating in your life, leading to feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction, hopelessness and overall a sense of being stuck.
3. Hypervigilance And Panic Attacks
Anxiety is a natural response to stress, but when it becomes persistent and overwhelming, it can be a sign of unresolved trauma. Traumatic experiences can leave a lasting impact on the nervous system, causing the body to remain in a state of hypervigilance called the "fight or flight" response. This means that the body is constantly on high alert, making it difficult for the individual to relax and feel safe.
Panic attacks are also common in individuals who have experienced trauma. These attacks can be triggered by reminders of the traumatic event or for "no reason at all", and can include symptoms such as sweating, shaking, heart palpitations, and shortness of breath. If you find yourself experiencing persistent anxiety or panic attacks, it may be a sign that you have unresolved trauma.
4. Intrusive Thoughts and Memories
Unresolved trauma can also lead to intrusive thoughts and memories related to the traumatic event. These thoughts and memories can be triggered by certain people, places, or situations and can be difficult to control or suppress (see an article about why we can't control or get rid of emotions here). You may find yourself experiencing flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts that interfere with your ability to concentrate or sleep. Trauma survivors may also experience physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate or sweating, when they are triggered by a reminder of the traumatic event.
For example, someone who has experienced a natural disaster may have recurring nightmares about the event or may experience flashbacks triggered by the sound of rain or wind. Or someone who has experienced a violent crime may have intrusive thoughts about the perpetrator or the event itself, even years after the event. These intrusive thoughts and memories can be distressing and can interfere with your ability to function in your daily life.
The Bottom Line
Trauma is a challenging experience that can have long-lasting effects on a person's mental health and well-being. If you are experiencing persistent and intense negative emotions, emotional dysregulation, avoidance behaviours, panic attacks, intrusive thoughts and memories, or any other signs that may suggest that you are struggling with unresolved trauma, it is essential to seek professional help.
A licensed therapist can help you process your emotions, identify coping strategies, and work through the trauma in a safe and supportive environment. With the right support, it is possible to overcome the effects of trauma and lead a fulfilling life. Remember, healing from trauma is a journey, but it is a journey that is worth taking.
If you are struggling with trauma and want to speak with a professional, we would love to help! At Inner Growth Counselling we offer in-person therapy in Barrie as well as virtual options for residents of Ontario. Contact us to schedule a free 15 minute consultation or for more information.
Our team of online and in-person counsellors and psychotherapists in Barrie provide quality and effective mental health counselling services near you in Barrie and virtually across Ontario to individuals (6+), couples and families. We also offer an Affordable Therapy Program that provides counselling services in Barrie to individuals (12+) who are facing financial challenges that need mental health support.