Defn: Trauma :: an experience that produces psychological injury or pain

What is Trauma?

All traumatic experiences involve some sort of threat to our physical, emotional, and/or psychological safety

How common is trauma?

Trauma has touched most of our lives. Trauma takes many forms from abuse at home to sexual assault, or even war experiences. Some of us have experienced accidents, disasters, interpersonal violence or abuse, medical trauma or traumatic losses. Others have been exposed to trauma indirectly through the experiences of friends or loved ones.

Because of the prevalence of trauma in our society many of us face multiple threats to our physical and emotional safety throughout our lives. Consider the following statistics:

  • According to the National Institute of Justice and the Center for Disease Control, 1 out of f 5 women, and 1 out of 33 men report experiencing a completed or attempted rape at some time in their lives.

  • Every year in the U.S 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are physically assaulted by an intimate partner.

  • The surgeon general’s office has reported that domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 – making it more common than car accidents, muggings, and cancer deaths combined.

  • In the U.S 7.7 million American adults age 18 and older, about 3.5% of adults each year, suffer from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.)

Does trauma affect children?

  • According to a national incidence study of abuse and neglect, nearly 3 million children, that is 1 out of every 25 experience some sort of endangerment in the U.S.

  • Almost 1/3 of these children experience direct physical, sexual, or emotional abuse.

  • Per year more than 2 million children experience significant physical or emotional neglect.

  • By the time a child reaches age 18, the probability of having been directly affected by interpersonal or community violence is about 1 out of 4

As a result many of these children will have difficulty sleeping, problems concentrating in school, and troubled peer relationships. But, the full impact of trauma often manifests in later years, usually in adolescence and adulthood. Parents often believe the child has managed the incident without trauma because initially the symptoms are not obvious.

Studies have found that childhood trauma such as exposure to domestic violence, or living with household members who abuse drugs or alcohol, or are mentally ill or suicidal, or have engaged in criminal behavior puts the individual at a higher risk of developing serious substance abuse or dependence, depression and suicidality in adulthood. Childhood trauma is also related to a higher risk of some of the leading causes of death in adults, including obesity, ischemic heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, skeletal fractures, and liver disease.

What are the Symptoms of Trauma?

Some of the symptoms of trauma could be having trouble falling asleep or waking up from nightmares.  We may have recurrent memories of the trauma even though we work hard to avoid those thoughts.  Often we struggle with negative thoughts about ourselves or have trouble in relationships.

How does Trauma Impact our Bodies?

Trauma victims are alienated from their bodies by a cascade of events that begins deep in the brain with a structure known as the amygdala.  When faced with a threat, the amygdala triggers a fight-or-flight response, which includes the release of a flood of hormones.  This response usually persists until the threat is vanquished.  But, if the threat is not vanquished - if we cannot fight or flee - the amydala keeps sounding the alarm.

We keep producing stress hormones, which in turn wreak havoc on the rest of our bodies.  It's similar to what happens in chronic stress, except that in traumatic stress, the memories of the traumatic event invade patients' subconscious thoughts, sending them back into fight-or-flight mode at the slightest provocation.

In the short term, patients avoid the pain it causes by “dissociating.” That is, they take leave of their bodies, so much so that they often cannot describe their own physical sensations. In the long term, they become experts in self-numbing. They use food, exercise, work — or worse, drugs and alcohol — to stifle physical discomfort. The longer they do this, the more difficult it becomes to remain present in any given moment.

Causes of Emotional or Psychological Trauma

An event will most likely lead to emotional or psychological trauma if:

  • It happened unexpectedly.

  • You were unprepared for it.

  • You felt powerless to prevent it.

  • It happened repeatedly.

  • Someone was intentionally cruel.

  • It happened in childhood.

Commonly overlooked causes of emotional and psychological trauma

  • Falls or sports injuries

  • Surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life)

  • The sudden death of someone close

  • A car accident

  • The breakup of a significant relationship

  • A humiliating or deeply disappointing experience

  • The discovery of a life-threatening illness or disabling condition

Symptoms of emotional and psychological trauma

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief

  • Anger, irritability, mood swings

  • Guilt, shame, self-blame

  • Feeling sad or hopeless

  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating

  • Anxiety and fear

  • Withdrawing from others

  • Feeling disconnected or numb

Physical symptoms of trauma:

  • Insomnia or nightmares

  • Being startled easily

  • Racing heartbeat

  • Aches and pains

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Edginess and agitation

  • Muscle tension

 How to Heal

Talk-based therapy serves a critical role in the healing of trauma, but may not be sufficient by itself. Since trauma is held in the body it is essential to bring the body into the healing process.

The goal of treatment is to resolve this disconnect. If patients can tolerate their own bodily sensations, they’ll be able to process the trauma themselves and body based therapy has proved an especially good way to do this. 

Brainspotting is an especially effective treatment for the healing of trauma.  Contact us today to begin your journey of healing.