You would know if you've experienced trauma, right? Right?
I know I believed that at one point in my life. It's hard to admit we've experienced something that could be defined as "traumatic." Our mind can do several things in response to these events; here are a few common ones, 1) Burry it deep and try to forget about it, 2) Tell ourself if actually wasn't that bad and to move on already, 3) Remind ourself that people go through way worse all the time and you have no room to complain, 4) Not understand the experience until much later in life.
Considering all of that, maybe it's understandable why we don't recognize what we're struggling with is the aftereffects of trauma. We might call it depression, anxiety, being anti-social, having sleep problems, being stressed, being a perfectionist, or others. What we don't do, is reflect back on the events that created these reactions in us and realize they are the cause, or at least a major player. (And by the way, that's normal. Our mind responds to trauma in such a way to keep us moving through life and to protect us.)
So, if you're wondering "have I experienced a traumatic event? Are my struggles because of trauma? Do I have symptoms of trauma?," you might find these 5 signs helpful. And if you need a better understanding of what trauma is and the events that can be considered traumatic, take a look at this page on my website.
5 Signs you Might be Struggling with Trauma
Intrusive thoughts, memories, or feelings
One of the telltale signs of trauma is having reoccurring and intrusive thoughts, memories, and feelings about a stressful experience(s). To experience trauma is to experience something so big and so stressful your body and mind were unable to process it. The memories and feelings gets lodged in your body and mind, just under the surface, unable to move back into long-term memory and be released. The result is that each time something similar happens or a reminder comes into your awareness, those memories, thoughts, and feelings reemerge. It's as if you're reliving the stressful and overpowering event again. It can be very overwhelming. You might feel like you have no control of your thoughts or feelings or like you're going crazy.
Anxiously aware of others and your surroundings
Are you always aware of your surroundings? Do you know where all your exits are? Do you hate having your back to others? Do you always know what others are doing and what their next step might be? Do you scan your environment constantly? And because of all this you are on edge, tense, ready to take action at any moment, and can't relax or fully enjoy yourself? This may be another clear sign you've been through something traumatic. Your mind and body are keeping you vigilant and on guard. This keeps you safe and ready to run or fight any future danger. If you can help it, you're not going to be caught off guard or unsafe again!
Harsh, critical inner voice
You can do it better. Why can't you get it right? That's not good enough. Keep working on it till it's right. That's not how that goes. Do better. Why do you always screw up? What's wrong with you? Everyone will notice. They won't look at the same if they know this. Don't give anyone a reason to criticize you or think poorly of you.
Does that sound familiar? If so, you're likely self-critical and have high expectations. Again, this keeps you safe. It keeps you safe from criticism, judgement, being corrected, negative attention, or even any attention at all. This could be a response to trauma, especially if the trauma was relational. Your inner world wants to protect you from further rejection and pain. Being perfect and getting to the criticism first protects you from hearing this from others... or so we think. You also may not know how to be compassionate and kind to yourself. If this has not been modeled and given to us or we don't learn how to do it. And one last point, self-blame and self-invalidation are common responses. We have inner conflict with parts of us blaming other parts for letting it happen. We take responsibility and think, "if only I..." this would not have happened. We might be filled with regret and blame. There's such a mix of emotions and thoughts about these stressful experiences that come and go throughout our life.
High and frequent stress response
Trauma = stress response. When we experience something traumatic our threat system takes over. You may be familiar with the "flight, fight, or freeze response." All three responses release chemicals and get our body ready for an action that will keep us alive. The fight response prepares us to fight the threat, flight prepares us to run away, and freeze prepares us to shut down or "play dead." Each one is valuable and needed depending on the threat we're facing.
As mentioned above, events that are considered traumatic override our system and are too big to process. They get locked in and stuck in our mind and body. The parts of our brain responsible for the threat/stress response become very sensitive. They go off for even the tiniest sense of danger. We can even stay in a habitual state of stress, feeling as if it never shuts off or keeps us activated. If stress comes easy for you, you're likely unable to relax, you have issues with sleep, your body stays tense, you're always tired or fatigued, your brain gets foggy, memory is poor, you get irritated and angry easily, you have a short fuse, you feel anxious and panicky often, your mind is always going, and you may even have digestive issues.
Avoidance of memories or external reminders of a past experience(s)
Given the list of responses above, it makes sense there would be some avoidance. If having reminders of something in your past sends you into a state of stress or shame or anger or anxiety, why would you keep putting yourself through that. This avoidance can look like trying to block certain thoughts and memories, pushing away certain emotions, avoiding certain places or things, getting rid of certain people from your life, and keeping all of this to yourself and not talking about the stressful events or experiences. Avoidance locks the trauma into our minds and body even deeper and it can be very difficult and painful to reveal them.
So, What's Next? Is there hope?
100%, yes! Hopefully you can see, there are real reasons for the above responses. It's not only normal for your brain and body to respond in this way, it protects you from more potential harm. It is a survival mechanism that is doing it's job. So let's thank our system for keeping us going and getting us this far in life!
Now, if you are at a place of wanting more understanding and healing, there are some next steps. Trauma healing comes in many shapes and sizes, however there are a few approaches which have strong recovery results. These approaches help your brain reprocess the experience(s), getting it out of short-term memory and moving it back to your long-term memory. They also help to move the stored stress out of your body and get it back to a neutral, calm place to live within. Here are some recommended types of therapy: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Internal Family Systems (IFS), Brainspotting, Somatic Therapies, Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART).
If you would like to learn more about trauma treatment, how I approach trauma, and what the recovery process could look like for you, please reach out. I would be honored to help you navigate your healing journey.