Bruised But Not Broken

Bruised But Not Broken
Written By: Clinical Psychologist
Reviewed By: Counselling Psychologist
MA Psychology Pennsylvania State University, USA
Last Updated: 30-12-2023

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Rebuilding Yourself After Trauma

It s normal to feel terrified when something frightful or hazardous occurs. Your body reacts to perceived danger by producing a surge of hormones that heighten your sense of awareness. We refer to this as the "fight or flight" reaction. It keeps us alive throughout potentially fatal situations.

However, the brain s reaction to frightful experiences can also result in long-term issues. This can involve having difficulty falling asleep, experiencing flashbacks, being easily frightened, nervous, or jittery, feeling on edge all the time, or avoiding situations or objects that bring up the incident.

Occasionally, these symptoms subside after a few weeks. However, occasionally they go considerably longer. A marker of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, may be present if symptoms persist for more than a month and get severe enough to affect relationships or work performance.

What is Trauma?

"Most people identify symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder with veterans and combat environments," says Stanford University mental health specialist Dr. Amit Etkin, who receives funding from the NIH. "On the other hand, a variety of traumas that occur throughout life can result in symptoms resembling post-traumatic stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder itself."

This include those who have experienced physical or sexual abuse, mishaps, natural disasters, and several other severe incidents.

PTSD may strike anyone, at any age. Seven or eight out of every 100 people will at some point in their lives develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to the National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

There s no blood test that can determine if someone is at the highest risk of developing PTSD, nor is there a question you can ask them to find out. However, we are aware that there are certain factors that generally raise risk and others that reduce it.

What is emotional and psychological trauma?

Extremely stressful experiences that break your sense of security and leave you feeling helpless in a frightening environment can cause emotional and psychological trauma. You may struggle with persistently uncomfortable memories, feelings, and anxiety as a result of psychological trauma. You might experience numbness, disconnection, and a loss of trust in other people as a result of it.

Even though there is no physical danger involved, trauma can nonetheless arise from any circumstance that makes you feel helpless and alone. Traumatic events sometimes involve threats to one s life or safety. Your subjective emotional experience of an incident determines whether or not it is traumatic, not the actual conditions. You are more prone to experience trauma if you feel more terrified and powerless.
The following can result in emotional and psychological trauma:

  • One-time incidents include accidents, injuries, and violent attacks, particularly if they occurred unexpectedly or while the victim was a youngster.
  • Persistent, unrelenting stress, such as that brought on by a life-threatening illness, living in a neighborhood plagued by crime, or repeatedly suffering through terrible experiences like abuse, neglect as a kid, or bullying.
  • Frequently disregarded factors include surgery (particularly during the first three years of life), the abrupt death of a close family member, the dissolution of a major relationship, or a humiliating or extremely disappointing event, particularly if the victim was intentionally unkind.

In the event that you were not directly involved in the tragedy, managing the trauma of a natural or man-made disaster can pose special obstacles. Even though it s very unlikely that any of us will ever experience a mass shooting, airline disaster, or terrorist attack firsthand, we re constantly exposed to horrifying pictures of those who have on social media and in the news. Repeatedly staring at these pictures might cause traumatic stress and overwhelm your neurological system.

You may make therapeutic changes and go on with your life, regardless of the reason for your trauma and how long ago it occurred.

Even while everyone can experience trauma, the likelihood of experiencing trauma increases if you already have a high stress level, have recently experienced a string of losses, or have experienced trauma in the past—especially if it happened when you were a young child. Anything that disturbs a child s sense of safety might cause childhood trauma, such as:

  • An unstable or unsafe environment.
  • Separation from a parent.
  • Serious illness.
  • Intrusive medical procedures.
  • Sexual, physical, or verbal abuse.
  • Domestic violence.
  • Neglect.

Growing up through trauma can have serious, long-lasting effects. Unresolved childhood trauma creates a sense of helplessness and fear that persists into adulthood and paves the way for additional trauma. Even if your trauma occurred a long time ago, you may still take action to get over the hurt, rediscover how to connect and trust other people, and regain emotional equilibrium.

Symptoms of Trauma

Each of us responds to trauma differently, going through a spectrum of emotional and physical responses. Remember that there is no "right" or "wrong" way to feel, think, or act, so stop criticizing yourself or other people for how you react. In response to ABNORMAL occurrences, your responses are NORMAL.

Emotional & Psychological Symptoms: 

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief.
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating.
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings.
  • Anxiety and fear.
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame.
  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Feeling sad or hopeless.
  • Feeling disconnected or numb.

Physical Symptoms:

  • Insomnia or nightmares.
  • Fatigue.
  • Being startled easily.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Racing heartbeat.
  • Edginess and agitation.
  • Aches and pains.
  • Muscle tension.

Healing from Trauma

Usually lasting a few days to several months, trauma symptoms progressively go away as you come to terms with the upsetting experience. However, even after you re feeling better, you could occasionally experience distressing thoughts or feelings, particularly in reaction to triggers like the anniversary of the incident or something else that brings up the trauma.

You may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if you find it difficult to move on from the experience for an extended amount of time and your psychological trauma symptoms don t go away or get worse. While emotional trauma is a common reaction to upsetting events, it turns into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when your nervous system becomes "stuck," leaving you in a state of psychological shock and unable to process your feelings or make sense of what happened.

Whether or not a traumatic event results in death, you as a survivor have to learn to live with the loss of your sense of safety, if only momentarily. Grief is the normal response to this loss. You must experience grief, just like anyone who has lost a loved one. You can overcome your grief, recover from the trauma, and move on with your life by using the following advice.

Trauma recovery Tip 1: Get Moving

Trauma throws your body s natural balance off, leaving you paralyzed by terror and hyperarousal. Exercise and movement not only release endorphins and burn off adrenaline, but they can actually aid in nervous system healing.

Make an effort to work out for at least 30 minutes every day. Alternatively, three ten-minute workout bursts per day are equally beneficial if that s easier.

The finest types of exercise are those that involve rhythm and use both your arms and legs, such running, swimming, basketball, dancing, or walking.

Include a mindfulness component. When exercising, pay close attention to your body and how it feels as you move, rather than letting your thoughts or other distractions take over. Take note of your breathing patterns, the sensation of the wind on your skin, or the sound of your feet striking the ground. This can be made easier by engaging in sports like rock climbing, boxing, weight training, or martial arts, where you must pay close attention to your body s actions to prevent harm.

Tip 2: Don t Isolate

You might want to isolate yourself after a traumatic event, but doing so will only make matters worse. You ll heal more quickly if you interact with others in person, so try to keep up your relationships and limit your alone time.

You are under no need to discuss the trauma. It s not necessary to discuss the trauma with others in order to connect with them. In fact, that might even make things worse for certain people. Feeling involved and welcomed by others is a source of comfort.

Request assistance. You don t have to discuss the experience in detail, but it is crucial that you have a face-to-face confidant who will listen to you without passing judgment. Seek assistance from a dependable friend, relative, counselor, or pastor.

Engage in social interactions even when you re not feeling it. Engage in "normal" social activities with others that are unrelated to the traumatic event.

Make contact with former acquaintances. Make an attempt to reestablish whatever connections you may have lost if you have distanced yourself from once-important people.

Become a member of a trauma survivors support group. Making connections with people who are going through similar issues can help you feel less alone, and learning about other people s coping mechanisms can motivate you to get better yourself.

Offer assistance. Volunteering can be a wonderful approach to combat the sense of powerlessness that frequently accompanies trauma in addition to helping others. Help others to remind yourself of your strengths and to regain your sense of power.

Make some new pals. It s crucial to reach out and create new friends whether you re living alone or far from your loved ones. Join a group or enroll in a class to meet individuals who share your interests. You can also get in touch with an alumni association, your neighbors, or coworkers.

If it s hard to connect with people...

Trauma survivors frequently experience feelings of disconnection, withdrawal, and difficulty forming social connections. If that s you, here are some things you may do prior to your next get-together with a friend:

Move or engage in exercise. You can thrash around, jump up and down, or swing your arms and legs. You ll feel more in-tune with yourself and have an easier time connecting.

Toning of voice. Vocal tone, as odd as it may sound, is a very effective strategy to become more approachable to others. Just sit up straight and utter the sound "mmmm." Adjust the loudness and pitch until your face starts to vibrate in a nice way.

Tip 3: Self-regulate your Nervous System

You can adjust your arousal system and relax yourself, regardless of how tense, nervous, or out of control you feel. It will not only help reduce trauma-related anxiety, but it will also give you a stronger sense of control.

Breathing deliberately. You may quickly relax yourself if you re feeling anxious, confused, or bewildered by practicing mindful breathing. Just take sixty deep breaths, paying close attention to each "out" breath.

Sensory data. Is there a certain sight, scent, or flavor that instantly puts you at ease? Perhaps soothing yourself with a little music or animal stroking session would do the trick? Since every person reacts to sensory information slightly differently, try out a variety of short stress reduction methods to see which ones work best for you.

Remaining rooted. Sit on a chair to feel more grounded and in the moment. Sensate your back against the chair and your feet on the floor. Choose six items from your surroundings that are either red or blue. Observe how your breathing becomes calmer and deeper.

Tip 4: Take care of your Health

It s true that being in good physical health might help you handle the stress of traumatic experiences better.

Make sure you get enough rest. Your sleep patterns may be disrupted by stress or fear following a traumatic event. However, getting too little sleep can worsen the effects of trauma and make it more difficult to keep your emotional equilibrium. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep every night and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.

Steer clear of drugs and alcohol. Using them can exacerbate the symptoms of your trauma and heighten your feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and despair.

Consume a diet rich in variety. Throughout the day, eating small, well-balanced meals will help you maintain your energy and reduce mood fluctuations. To improve your mood, steer clear of sugary and fried meals and consume lots of omega-3 fats, which may be found in foods like salmon, walnuts, soybeans, and flaxseeds.

When to seek professional therapy for Trauma

Everyone heals from trauma at a different rate, and recovery takes time. However, if months have gone by and your symptoms aren t getting better, you could want the assistance of a trauma specialist.

Seek trauma treatment if you are:

  • experiencing difficulties at work or home.
  • experiencing extreme depression, anxiety, or terror.
  • unable to establish meaningful, personal relationships.
  • having horrible flashbacks, nightmares, or memories.
  • progressively avoiding everything that makes you think about the trauma.
  • aloof and emotionally void from others.
  • using drugs or drink to feel better.

Lessen your tension. Try practicing yoga, meditation, or deep breathing exercises to help you relax. Make time for the things you enjoy doing, like your favorite pastimes.

It is recommended to approach trauma healing with the assistance of a qualified trauma specialist because working through trauma may be frightening, excruciating, and even re-traumatizing. It could take some time to locate the ideal therapist. It s critical that the therapist you select has prior trauma treatment experience. However, the caliber of your therapeutic alliance is just as crucial. Select a trauma specialist with whom you are at ease. Choose a different therapist if you don t feel understood, safe, or respected.

Treatment for Trauma

Resolving the painful memories and emotions you ve long avoided, letting go of stored "fight-or-flight" energy, learning to control intense emotions, and regaining your confidence in other people are all necessary for psychological and emotional trauma recovery. A trauma specialist may treat you using a range of various therapeutic modalities.

Instead of concentrating on ideas and memories related to the traumatic incident, somatic experiencing pays attention to physical sensations. You can physically release pent-up trauma-related energy by shaking, weeping, or doing other physical releases by focusing on what s happening in your body.

You can analyze and process your feelings and thoughts around a trauma with the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Using eye movements or other rhythmic, left-right stimulation, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) combines aspects of cognitive-behavioral therapy with the ability to "unfreeze" painful memories.

Helping a loved one deal with Trauma

Show understanding and patience. Recovering from a traumatic event requires time. Remember that every person reacts to trauma differently, so exercise patience with the speed of your recovery. Never compare your loved one s answer to your own or that of anyone else.

Provide useful assistance to aid your loved one in returning to their regular schedule. This could be lending a hand with chores or grocery shopping, or it could just mean being accessible for conversations or listening.

Be there for your loved one when they want to chat, but don t force them to. It can be challenging for some trauma survivors to discuss what happened. Let your loved one know you are available to listen if they want to chat or just to hang out if they don t, but don t push them to open up.

Encourage your loved one to unwind and mingle. Motivate them to pursue hobbies and other enjoyable activities, make friends, and engage in physical activity. Organize a regular lunch date with pals or enroll in a fitness class together.

Remain apart from the symptoms of the trauma. It s possible for your loved one to become withdrawn, agitated, hostile, or emotionally distant. Keep in mind that this might not be related to you or your relationship and is instead a product of the trauma.

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