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The Impact of Trauma on Self

The Impact of Trauma on Self

Those who have experienced trauma know it takes resilience to overcome. When something threatens a person’s feelings of safety, intense emotions are a natural response.

Trauma can affect a person’s ability to process those emotions and can cause you to experience negative emotional and physical effects long after the event.

Many survivors experience guilt or shame after a traumatic event. Confronting trauma and beginning the healing process can be frightening, but you can heal with proper care and resources.

Understanding Trauma

Trauma is the emotional response to a distressing event or series of emotionally disturbing or life-threatening events. It can have debilitating, long-term effects on a person’s emotional, mental, and physical well-being.

Trauma can affect a person’s ability to cope by diminishing their sense of self and ability to process experiences. It can distort a person’s sense of safety, cause feelings of helplessness, and alter their everyday life. Trauma can manifest in mental illness, flashbacks, memory loss, or other defensive mechanisms your brain employs to protect you.  

Traumatic events undermine a person’s safety.

Events that may cause emotional trauma include:

  • Physical violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Neglect
  • Death
  • Car accidents
  • Racism
  • Military combat experiences
  • Participant in a natural disaster
  • Witness to a crime, accident, or death

The circumstances surrounding trauma can vary, but they typically involve a loss of control, abuse of power, or experiencing pain and helplessness.

The Impact of Trauma on Self

Trauma can cause lifelong effects that significantly alter a person’s life. Symptoms can manifest immediately or take time before becoming evident.

The emotional impact of trauma may include:

  • Shock
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Numbness
  • Guilt
  • Hopelessness
  • Inability to concentrate

The physical impact of trauma may include:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Racing heart
  • Sweating
  • Digestive issues
  • Shortness of breath
  • Jumpiness
  • Persistent crying

When a person experiences trauma, their body responds automatically to feeling threatened. The brain releases cortisol and adrenaline, which can have varying effects.

Immediate, automatic responses to trauma may include:

  • Fight. Responding physically by struggling, fighting, and verbally saying “no.”
  • Freeze. Feeling paralyzed or unable to move.
  • Flight. Physically moving away from the traumatic event in progress by running, hiding, or moving away.

The Behavioral Impacts of Trauma on Self

Surviving trauma can lead to a variety of adverse effects on the self, including mental health concerns. For example, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, a severe traumatic stress response, develops when trauma symptoms are persistent and debilitating. It can cause a person distress in relationships and living their daily life.

People with PTSD can experience flashbacks, panic attacks, depression, and severe anxiety. It can escalate to self-harm, suicidal thoughts, or difficulty with substance use.

Over time, trauma can interfere with a person’s well-being by altering their perception of the world and themselves.

Trauma affects well-being by:

  • Shattering your sense of self and safety
  • Making someone feel like they don’t have control or free will
  • Creating difficulty trusting others
  • Causing dissociation
  • Losing your sense of identity
  • Feeling a sense of worthlessness
  • Losing your physical connection to your body
  • Experiencing a loss of intimacy

Carmen Dominguez, Executive Clinical Director at Integrative Life Center, said trauma shatters a person’s sense of self and keeps them from living their most authentic lives. She said:

“Some clients who have experienced trauma are hyper-focused on avoiding feeling or thinking about the trauma. They can’t focus on the here and now to create a life they love and respect. When we are in a state of survival, we can’t explore our authentic aspirations and unique competencies and gifts[a].”  

Seeking Help

To heal from trauma, a person needs help to reestablish their sense of safety and control of their life. Carmen said:

“The first step in healing trauma is reclaiming and restoring one’s sense of safety, dignity, and connection. In seeking safety, trauma survivors disconnect from their inherent worth. Self-esteem is key to our sense of well-being[b].”

At Integrative Life Center, mental health professionals approach therapy in a trauma-informed way. This approach means understanding that trauma can have long-lasting emotional, neurological, psychological, social, and biological effects. The treatment path is “informed” by these past experiences, with a strong sense of empathy from mental health care providers.

This approach also allows counselors to establish relationships with clients where they walk alongside them in healing instead of acting as experts. They help educate clients about trauma and how the body responds to it, so they can understand and observe it practically and begin to understand their responses.

“Providing clients with psycho-educational information about how the body, mind, and spirit are impacted due to unprocessed trauma is key to supporting them on a transformational journey of healing. We want to inspire clients to get curious about what is behind some of their self-defeating patterns. We care deeply about addressing our clients’ whole being[c].”

Finding Healing

Healing from trauma takes time, but it can change your life. Talking to a mental health professional can better your understanding of your trauma and help you implement healthy coping mechanisms.

Our approach to trauma-informed care puts a survivor’s emotional and physical safety at the forefront. Our providers approach healing with empathy and compassion, building trust and developing coping skills. It’s never too late to begin healing. Contact ILC today to find comfort and take back your life.

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