Feeling Wounded, Stuck, and Overwhelmed? You Maybe Be Suffering From Trauma or PTSD.
Perhaps you experienced an event that has changed you and continues to trouble you. Or maybe you’re not sure what happened, but you know something significant did take place. It might be hard to put what you experienced into words, or perhaps what you remember is vague and difficult to understand.
At night, your dreams may be strange or scary, or you might wake up agitated for no apparent reason at all. Throughout the day, you may be bothered by upsetting memories and have trouble getting certain thoughts out of your mind. You might have very specific ways of avoiding these memories and feelings. For example, your mind may drift away from the here and now of the present moment. Or you simply avoid any kind of reminder of your past. You may use alcohol or drugs to manage your state of mind.
When there is trauma or PTSD, emotions typically feel out of control. You might be irritable, angry, self-destructive, hyper-vigilant or unable to concentrate. You could be experiencing a sense of vulnerability, fear, horror, or shame. You may also have unexplained physical symptoms, such as pelvic pain or irritable bowel syndrome, or suffer from medical problems such as asthma, chronic pain, coronary heart disease, hypertension, or a thyroid disorder.
These symptoms likely make it difficult for you to manage important areas of your life. For example, your job may feel overwhelming, or your relationships may feel overly complicated. It might seem as if everyone else is having an easier time than you.
What Exactly Is Trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Event trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is caused by an overwhelming experience of an event or series of events that involves a sense of danger, sexual assault or serious injury. These would be experiences that shake you up emotionally and shatter your sense of the world. They can include events that happened recently or events that occurred in childhood long ago.
It can be especially difficult to parse out the lingering effects of traumatic experiences that have happened more than once. Complex Trauma refers to the impact that prolonged and repeated traumas have on a person’s sense of self and ability to deal with stress. Such traumas include past patterns of being abused or neglected. Developmental trauma refers to the impact that complex trauma has on developmental tasks of childhood, such as learning how to be in intimate relationships or learning how to self-soothe when upset.
Both Event and Complex Trauma/PTSD involve a special type of memory that includes reliving in vivid detail emotionally difficult or unpleasant memories. Everyday memories can feel negative too, but they have the distinct feeling of being located in the past. Everyday memories are called autobiographical memories. Unlike traumatic memory, everyday memories lose much of their vividness and emotional charge over time. This distinction may help clarify the nature of traumatic memory. For example, you may have an autobiographical memory from early childhood that seemed intense when it occurred, such as falling off a swing. You probably cried when it happened but got over the event fairly quickly. If your brain recorded this event as an autobiographical memory, you would likely experience now (as an adult) a faint recollection of having fallen off a swing a long time ago. If this fall was traumatic, you (as an adult) would instead continue to remember parts of the experience in vivid detail and experience undue emotional distress when you do. When a memory remains traumatic it is considered unprocessed because there is a sense of lack of closure.
Traumatic memory can lead to perceptual distortions. When you feel physical and emotional distress from an unprocessed memory, you might not always be aware that you are being reminded of something. These memories can subtly reorganize the way you see your world, making you prone to superimposing a traumatic memory on what is currently happening in your life. The distress you experience feels real but does not match what is actually happening. As a result, you may, at times, find it difficult to understand clearly what is going on around you or to trust your own perceptions. This can be very confusing.
More than 60 percent of both men and women experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetimes, through no fault of their own. Thankfully, treating PTSD and trauma is possible. With the help of an experienced therapist, you can find relief from your past.
Trauma Therapy Can Help You Feel Like Yourself Again.
Know that traumatic memory is your brain’s natural way of dealing with an overwhelming or unsettling experience. Even though it likely doesn’t feel that way, there is a predictable order or pattern to your symptoms and a logical way to resolve them. In other words, there is hope for lasting relief.
Because traumatic memory can be so intense and dysregulating, it is helpful to understand, in advance, the phases of trauma treatment and resolution. They are as follows:
Phase 1 of trauma counseling involves improving your sense of safety and stability. You enhance your coping skills to regulate your emotions, calm your nervous system and set appropriate boundaries so that you can live in a more supportive and peaceful environment.
Phase 2 of trauma treatment involves active healing of the traumatic memory. Trauma resolution always includes skillfully revisiting memories so they can be placed into autobiographical memory. This creates a sense of closure and an ability to move on.
Phase 3 involves integrating what you have learned to cultivate a richer and more rewarding life without the tyranny of trauma. You might arrive at a new meaning for your life.
Find Yourself a Good Trauma Therapist
Choosing a qualified trauma therapist is an important step to resolving trauma because trauma therapy can be complex. Many therapists are “trauma-informed.” What you need is a therapist who specializes in working with trauma and stressful life events, along with the related symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and more. While I no longer provide trauma therapy, I might refer you to a professional therapist so that the work we do in coaching can result in the best possible outcome.
It is entirely possible to resolve traumatic memory and live symptom-free. Seeking trauma counseling is, in many ways, like going to the doctor with an infected cut. The doctor assists in the healing process by cleaning out the wound and applying some ointment, but the actual healing of the wound is spontaneously done by the body.
Frequently Asked Questions About Trauma and PTSD Treatment
FAQ: What if I don’t remember what happened? Is trauma therapy still worth trying?
It is not necessary to remember what caused your trauma in order to seek treatment for it. Typically, if you are struggling with trauma symptoms, there is memory of at least something, either consciously or unconsciously, in the body. If you don’t remember anything, but you sense that something must have occurred, there is still plenty of material to work with.
FAQ: I am not ready to face my trauma. Should I seek counseling anyway?
Absolutely. You can still benefit greatly from Phase 1 of trauma treatment, during which you build skills to manage your symptoms so that they don’t create so much havoc in your life. It is entirely acceptable to complete Phase 1 and decide not to continue to the next phase of processing trauma.
It is important to keep in mind that avoidance is a key symptom of trauma. If you find yourself resisting the idea of treatment, take inventory of how your symptoms interfere with your life. What do you want, and what is holding you back?
FAQ: Is there anything I can do to help myself without counseling?
General wisdom is to focus on self-care and stress management, such as good quality sleep, a good diet, and good boundaries at work. Keep company with supportive others and stay away from toxic relationships. Guided imagery recordings are great for self-soothing and getting to sleep. Yoga is widely considered helpful in easing trauma symptoms. Any healthy activity that helps you feel calm and grounded is recommended.
Realize that symptoms of PTSD and trauma by no means reflect any character fault, lack of willpower, or other shortcomings you imagine you have. It would be difficult for anyone to resolve trauma symptoms on his or her own. When you are ready to work on your trauma, there are therapists out there who can help.
FAQ: I know someone who is traumatized. How can I be a better support?
Ask about triggers and what kind of support he or she would like to have from you. Then faithfully follow through with their wishes. Give this person the benefit of the doubt when they don’t act according to your expectations. Be patient.