Trauma is a distressing event where an individual feels overwhelmed or severely threatened emotionally, psychologically or physically. It is a deeply disturbing incident or experience that infringes on a person’s sense of control and one which they struggle to integrate into their ongoing everyday life.
Some of the common characteristics of Trauma are:
- The event was unexpected
- The individual was unprepared or completely caught off guard
- The individual could not do anything to prevent it from happening
Many people experience a traumatic event at some time in their lives such as a car accident, the sudden death of a loved one, a violent act or a natural disaster. With support from family and friends most people will recover from these experiences and gradually integrate what has happened into their lives.
For some however, the effects of trauma are more lasting and cause pain, confusion, loss of confidence or post traumatic stress well after the event has passed. In these cases the guidance and support of a counsellor or psychotherapist is needed to assist recovery.
The original definition of the work ‘Trauma’ is wound.
Trauma has come to be defined more by the emotional and psychological effect is has on a person rather than the event itself. How a situation or event impacts a person is somewhat dependent on predisposing factors such as an individual’s past experiences, their expectations, beliefs and morals and their capacity to tolerate distress.
Some of the Common Causes of Trauma:
- Car accidents, severe falls or other accidents or physical injuries arising from such events leading to disability, for example.
- Abuse can include physical, sexual or emotional abuse and be either once-off or recurring over time.
- Natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis for example.
- Catastrophes war, bombing, terrorism.
- Violence either being the victim of, or threatened with, or witnessing, violence. This includes rape or domestic violence
- Terminal illness, violent death or bereavement.
Some of the Symptoms of Trauma:
- Anxiety, stress, edginess, irritability, racing heartbeat, panic attacks.
- Anger, sadness, emotional outbursts.
- Fatigue, lethargy, poor concentration
- Flashbacks, insomnia
- Emotional detachment, depression
You should seek help if you have experienced a trauma and these symptoms are prevalent and especially if:
- Your day to day life is impacted to the extent you feel unable to function.
- You are having difficulty forming or maintaining relationships.
- You are experiencing flashbacks or have frequent anxiety or stress due to the trauma.
- You are using alcohol or drugs to self-medicate and manage symptoms.
- You feel numb emotionally.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a psychological reaction that develops following exposure to an overwhelming, frightening or traumatic event. Traumatic events that can trigger PTSD include natural disasters such as earthquakes or tornadoes, military combat and violent personal assaults for example mugging, motor vehicle or other accidents. It is important to distinguish PTSD from normal reactions to traumatic events, which are similar but shorter lived and less intense. Most people who experience a traumatic event will have reactions that can include shock, anger, nervousness, fear, and even guilt. These responses are common, and for most people, they go away over time. For a person with PTSD, however, these feelings continue and even increase, becoming so strong that they keep the person from living a normal life. In general ,those suffering from PTSD will have symptoms for longer than one month and cannot function as well as before the event occurred.
PTSD is characterised by three main groups of problems and they can be classified under the headings: intrusive, avoidance and arousal symptoms.
Intrusive symptoms can include:
- Distressing memories and flashbacks, which is a re-experiencing or reliving the trauma over and over and can include physical symptoms such as racing heart and sweating. Bad dreams can also occur.
Avoidance symptoms (avoidance of any reminders of the event) can include:
- Staying away from places, events, or objects that are reminders of the traumatic experience
- Avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic event. For example, those who have experienced a bad car accident may now avoid driving or riding in a car.These symptoms can cause detachment and isolation from family and friends, as well as a loss of interest in activities that the person once enjoyed.
Arousal symptoms which are attributed to increased vigilance can include:
- being startled easily, constantly feeling tense or on edge, easily angered or having difficulty sleeping and are often constantly present. They may make it hard to do daily tasks, such as sleeping, eating, or concentrating.
Therapy Help for Trauma
If any of the above reflects your experience or resonates with you in any way, you may benefit from professional help in Recovering from Trauma. See our Find a Therapist page for a list of qualified Counsellors and Psychotherapist throughout Ireland who can support you if are experiencing emotional distress regarding this or any other issue.