Trauma can be caused by a range of events such as war, terrorism, natural disasters, transport accidents, criminal and domestic violence and childhood abuse and neglect. Being exposed to these events can have lasting physiological and psychological effects.
When you’ve experienced a traumatic event or series of events, psychological symptoms can develop that mainly centre around an intrusion of the past event into the present. Widely known symptoms such as flashbacks or nightmares can occur, as well as others such as painful memories, strong emotions associated with the traumatic event and using self-protective methods that were helpful at the time of the event.
But there are many other effects of trauma which can vary from person to person. This will depend on the type of trauma, the age and stage of development of the person at the time of the trauma, and frequency and severity of the exposure. Despite this, the way people respond are similar across all trauma experiences.
A common coping strategy is avoidance. While it is perfectly natural to avoid the memories, people, places and situations that are associated with traumatic events, using avoidance as a strategy can keep you ‘stuck’ in the trauma.
In order to cope effectively with the trauma it needs to be understood and processed. You can try a self-guided approach, but it can be more effective to work with a trusted professional who is experienced in treating trauma.
Making the decision to seek help and then taking the step to talk about a traumatic experience with someone can be overwhelming, even frightening. It can leave you worried about how you will cope following the appointment having re-lived the trauma. This is a common worry.
Developing some coping strategies to use any time you feel triggered can be helpful. Strategies you may consider include:
This can be a real place you can go to or an imaginary place in your mind where you feel safe. You can fill this place with things for comfort – a scented candle, warm blanket, happy photos – or you can imagine things that will make you feel safe. It’s important that this place is easily accessible.
This can be anything you find works for you such as relaxation breathing, visual imagery, mediation, yoga, or mindfulness. Activities where you focus on your five senses – what you can see, hear, smell, touch, taste – encouraging you to stay in the present moment.
Having a secure, trusting relationship is important as it can help you to feel safe and can also be a source of comfort. This could be a parent, partner, friend, psychologist or other mental health professional.
Learning more about responses to trauma and why these occur helps you to gain a better understanding of why you may react in certain ways, or why you have particular responses to things in your life.
Greater understanding of why you respond in certain ways allows you to have more compassion for yourself and your experience. Remind yourself that the way you respond is understandable given the experiences you have had.