Trauma is the response to a deeply distressing or disturbing event that overwhelms an individual’s ability to cope, causes feelings of helplessness, diminishes their sense of self and their ability to feel a full range of emotions and experiences. Traumatic situations that cause post-trauma symptoms vary quite dramatically from person to person. It is very subjective and it is important to bear in mind that it is defined more by its response than its trigger.
While trauma affects each person differently, depending on the type of trauma, age of the traumatized individual, how long ago the trauma happened or whether it’s an ongoing traumatic experience, and several other factors. There are still some common signs and symptoms of trauma that can help you recognize that trauma may be present in your loved one, family member, or friends. Some emotional symptoms of trauma are anxiety, depression, episodes of lost time or dissociation, hopelessness/despair, isolation from others, intense feeling of abandonment or loss, desire to inflict harm self-harm, loss of meaning to live/sense of purpose, distorted sense of self or body image, feeling alienated from others or emotional numbness, chronic fatigue, insomnia, lethargy, loss of interest in normal activities, chronic anger /resentment, poor impulse control, obsessive thoughts or worries of an unwanted nature, night terrors, flashbacks, nightmares, inability to organize, plan or make decisions.
Expecting or suggesting to a trauma survivor that he or she just get over it, that the feelings will pass is not helpful or effective. Although as time passes, it may blur some of the recurring memories, only professional trauma recovery can help the individual begin to heal from the effects of trauma. When substance abuse and/or a mental health disorder co-occur with the trauma or PTSD, the self-destructive spiral can only be reversed with a professional trauma recovery program.
It cannot be stressed enough that one of the most important parts of a trauma recovery program is that it provides a safe environment for healing to occur. One of the major hurdles for trauma patients is reducing shame and painful memories and perceptions as they explore and learn to cope with their traumatic issues.
We must recognize that the person affected by trauma will take some time to heal. Unrealistic expectations of a quick recovery, pushing the trauma survivor beyond his or her readiness and capability and badgering, over-protectiveness, ignoring or dismissing very real symptoms won’t help. What will help includes steadfast family support and encouragement during the healing process.