When someone experiences severe trauma, the symptoms of trauma can manifest itself in several different ways, including:
- Addictive behaviours
- Eating disorders
- Medical issues from prolonged stress
Individuals will seek out therapy or self-help solutions to deal with these symptoms. However, helping the person to recognise the roots of their problem can often be the only way to ensure a more long-term solution to help them recover.
Helping those that want to help themselves
As any good therapist will tell you, therapy will only help those that truly want to help themselves. Our understanding and knowledge of trauma and its impact is an ever-expanding field. There are several clinical approaches that a therapist can use these days to help tread and address trauma in their patients.
Therapists can help to reduce the impact of trauma on an individuals life by helping to build their personal resilience. This resilience-building approach can include everything from creating a social support network around the person to integrating practical therapeutic tools they can use, such as teaching an individual breathing techniques that can effectively stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
Without the willingness of an individual to engage with a therapist, or carrying a deficit or absence of resilience will only help to compound the traumatic impact.
Understanding the traumatic impact
The first step to help yourself or a loved one overcome their trauma is to first understand the traumatic impact and its severity.
Trauma exists on a subjective spectrum from mild to more severe experiences. A mild traumatic event, such as experiencing hurtful comments from someone, is very different from experiencing chronic physical abuse or sexual violence, which would fall at the other end of the spectrum.
It is also important to recognise that discrimination and stigma is also trauma, such as fat-shaming and weight stigma or gender identification stigma. It is up to the individual being subjected to the trauma to define and identify the trauma and its severity of impact on them.
The therapist or clinician must not judge the level of impact or severity without first listening to their individual and understanding their own assessment of the severity of the trauma.
Getting to the root of the trauma experience
In a lot of cases, an individual can be more affected by a traumatic experience depending on what developmental stage they were at when the trauma occurred.
If the individual experienced childhood trauma, how did that affect the development of their identity? Did the experience impact their ability to trust others?
We now understand that the prefrontal cortex, the more sophisticated centre of thought within the brain, doesn’t fully develop until around the age of 25 or 26. This means that should an individual experience a major trauma before this age, it can have a more serious effect on the development of the individual’s identity and self-esteem. It can directly affect how they see the world and react to it.
An Individual can become emotionally frozen in time from the time that their trauma occurred, This means that they can react to a stressful situation through an angry outburst, tantrum, emotional meltdown, panic attack or show intense fear when that traumatic memory is triggered.
Traumatic experiences can act to rewire our brain circuitry, but with the help of appropriate therapy and support, an individual can learn to overcome their deep-rooted fears and transform the underlying traumatic impact to create new and more positive responses to stressful situations.