what is it and how to detect it

We often hear a lot about trauma, in everyday life, in cinema, in literature. But, What is emotional trauma really?

When we hear the word “trauma”, we usually think of wars, assaults, rapes or natural disasters. However, trauma can encompass much more than this and be generated by events of -seemingly- minor impact.

The generation of the trauma does not depend in itself on the event, but on how we perceive and interpret this event. And each person reacts differently to the same event. An event that for some can generate emotional trauma, for others can pass without consequences.

What is trauma and what are its types?

Let’s start by defining what a trauma is and what are its particularities. The trauma is the emotional and physiological response to an event that we perceive as threatening life or physical or psychological integrity.

Sometimes these are unique, unexpected, unpredictable and overwhelming events, such as natural disasters, accidents or assaults. Other times they are constant and predictable events, but equally overwhelming, such as the case of domestic violence or gender-based violence.

However, there is another type of trauma that is quieter and therefore less obvious. This is an attachment trauma.

When we grow up in disabling environments, in which our needs are not seen or taken into account, with too much stress and abuse (physical or emotional) or neglect, our way of reacting to the world is affected. Then all areas of our personality are affected, because what was supposed to be a source of security and stability becomes a source of danger and threat.

Human beings are extremely social beings and We have depended on our attachment figures for a long time. As social beings, we regulate our inner world through contact with others.

The nervous system of babies and children is regulated by contact with other safe, stable and protective human beings. If this fails, the child fails to establish a secure attachment and seeks ways to self-regulate, but since he does not yet have the necessary resources and tools, this self-regulation usually fails. Indeed, this type of trauma is much more difficult to overcome.

What are the consequences of trauma in our lives?

Now, to better understand the consequences of trauma, it is important to understand how our autonomic nervous system works.

Our nervous system constantly scans the environment for threatsbecause his priority is our survival.

When we perceive a threatening situation (traumatic event), our sympathetic nervous system sets in motion a series of processes that prepare us to face it; secretes hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that prepare us to fight or flight.

In cases where fight and flight is not possible, as is the case with childhood mistreatment or abuse, the parasympathetic nervous system is activated along with other survival strategies, such as immobilization and submission. If these events are recurrent and there is no support to overcome them, the survival system remains constantly activated, leaving important consequences in our memory and in other areas of our life.

Our nervous system becomes hyper-alert, activating in the face of stimuli that might seem harmless to others.

This is why, although many years have passed since the traumatic event(s), our nervous system remains on alert, activate, react to non-existent threats as if they were imminent dangers and current, deregulating us emotionally and physiologically.

It is as if our body and mind are reliving past traumatic events in the present; as if the trauma were “frozen”.

How do we process experiences?

It should therefore be understood that our brain is constantly processing all the experiences that we live.

When an experience is successfully processed, because we have the tools and resources to do so, the information is stored in a healthy way and supports growth and learning.

But when we go through a traumatic experience (unfavorable or very difficult), our brain cannot process it in a healthy way; afterwards, the information that comes from this experience is “encapsulated”these memories are preserved intact, with a lot of somatic and emotional charge.

Those memories that have not been properly processed are called pathogenic memories. And they are the ones that generate symptoms like depression, anxiety, panic attacks, addictions, emotional dysregulation, etc.

Let’s make a comparison with our digestive system. When we eat, our digestive system processes what we eat, retains what we need for energy and nourishment, and discards what is not. But what happens when we eat something that is broken down or contains too much fat or spice? Our stomach probably swells, hurts or even vomits or gives us diarrhea.

The same thing happens with our processing of information that comes from our experiences. A healthy treatment is one that leaves us with what helps us make better decisions and throw away what is not necessary

How do I know if I have emotional trauma?

When emotional trauma occurs, this processing is incomplete and the emotional information is not processed into our system as it should be. And this is when the sequelae occur that do not allow us to live our lives to the full, responding inappropriately to the stimuli that trigger the memory of the traumatic event.

Here I detail some symptoms that may have their origins in a state of emotional trauma.

  • Difficulty feeling safe, trusting others, and forming meaningful relationships.
  • Difficulty regulating your emotions and impulses. For example, frequent tantrums.
  • Resorting to alcohol, drugs, binge eating, compulsive gambling (or video games) when intense emotion is present.
  • Engaging in risky behaviors, for example, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or engaging in risky sexual behaviors.
  • Suffer from depression, anxiety or panic attacks.

I hope to overcome this problem

The good news is that human beings are not static, we are constantly changing.

Every day we learn new things, we meet people who make us feel loved and safe, and we have enjoyable experiences.

Recent scientific evidence supports that therapies such as EMDR therapy (trauma reprocessing therapy) and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy can be of great help in relieving the suffering caused by trauma.

In dealing with emotional pain, you are not alone, you are not alone. Remember that it is always possible to ask for help.

I leave you with a sentence from Judith Herman, an American psychiatrist specializing in traumatology that I really like, because it touches on the importance of human relationships for healing.

“Recovery from trauma can only take place in the context of interpersonal relationships, it cannot happen in isolation.”

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