Unresolved Trauma


PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA

Psychological trauma is a pervasive reality in our society.  When people think of psychological trauma they may think of military combat, violent assault, or torture, to name a few.  However, we now know much more about the full scope of psychological trauma.  We now understand that psychological trauma also includes emotional abandonment and neglect and there is a vast array of symptoms that can persist long term.

SYMPTOMS

Trauma remains unresolved because people are often not aware that they have been traumatized.  People usually think that their childhood was just fine, or that is what they say to protect themselves from feeling the pain of emotional abandonment or neglect. So here are some of the symptoms to look for:
  • Drifting off and losing a sense of oneself, losing periods of time, and feeling everything and everybody seems unreal, strange, or foreign
  • Being mistrustful of others leading to difficulties in relationships
  • Feeling emotionally numb or “frozen”
  • Being easily “triggered” (intense emotional reactions), for example, being quick to anger
  • Feeling frequently anxious, fearful, or depressed
  • Having trouble sleeping, including having nightmares
  • Being self-destructive, such as, abusing a substance (including alcohol, marijuana, cigarettes, prescription drugs, or food)  to numb painful feelings
  • Becoming obese
  • Developing certain chronic illnesses or chronic pain
People may have one or more of these symptoms but have explained them away without closer examination.  They may have been traumatized and learned to protect themselves by covering over painful feelings and not even realize what they are doing.   However, if people do not deal with the symptoms of their trauma, they end up suffering all their life without knowing why they are in so much pain emotionally and physically.

CAUSES

Through years of research and study we also know why some people become traumatized and others do not.  When children have a secure relationship with emotionally available parents or caregivers they are much more resilient when they encounter the stresses of life.  Furthermore, if they experience a traumatic situation they are less likely to become traumatized. However, when children grow up with parents or caregivers who are emotionally damaging, those children can become severely traumatized and their symptoms can last a lifetime.  So what kind of parenting is emotionally traumatizing for children?  Parents or caregivers who are:
  • Emotionally distant-not capable of providing loving attention, comfort, and support
  • Erratic-sometimes overwhelmingly involved and then emotionally unavailable at other times
  • Frightening by their words or actions
  • Severely neglectful
  When children experience these types of parents they end up feeling emotionally abandoned.   They feel helpless and powerless, and have no one to go to for the love and comfort they deserve.  The world does not feel safe and they do not trust the people around them.  These painful feelings can last well into adulthood if their feelings and symptoms are not addressed. None of the painful feelings or numerous symptoms are a person’s fault.  We know that trauma affects the brain and therefore behavior and emotions. Once someone is traumatized it sets off stress hormones and affects certain parts of the brain that leads to dissociation, being emotionally “frozen”, repetitive patterns, intense emotional reactions, addictions, anxiety and depression, chronic illness or chronic pain.

TREATMENT

But the good news is there are effective ways of treating trauma and most psychologically traumatized people respond well to psychotherapy.  When a therapist is trained in the treatment of trauma and helps create a safe and understanding environment, the necessary trust can be established to enter the often painful stages of healing. The work involves first understanding what has been traumatizing throughout one’s life and the emotional impact it has had. Also, we need to understand all the symptoms that people have struggled with and how the symptoms themselves have affected their life. Then we begin to develop “tools” that will help them to:
  • cope more effectively
  • improve self-esteem
  • build inner strength
  • sooth and comfort themselves
  • reduce anxiety and panic attacks
These tools can then be integrated into their daily lives.

In order to cope with the sense of powerlessness and all the emotional pain people try very hard to avoid their feelings.  However, this avoidance needs to shift, in order for healing and growth to occur.  This shift will occur gradually.  I work with people’s painful experience slowly and carefully so they are not re-traumatized.  In time they become more aware and comfortable with their painful experiences and the impact these experiences have had on their life.  Then the intensity of the feelings and symptoms begins to lessen and becomes less frequent.  People describe feeling much more comfortable in their own skin, their world feels safer, and their relationships become happier and healthier.