People who have experienced one or more traumatic events often find themselves experiencing a variety of distressful symptoms. They experience anxiety ranging from generalized anxiety to panic attacks. Intrusive thoughts and images about the traumatic event(s) occur. Emotions are erratic and mood swings are extreme. Mood instability seems to take on a “life of its own.” You may feel irritable a lot of the time, even feel like flying into a rage. You can’t seem to control when feelings come up, distressing images pop into your mind, and feelings of being unsafe occurs. You may have nightmares. You can’t sleep, have problems falling asleep, and/or awake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep. Anxiety and feeling unsafe can keep you from going outside, or going to the store. Memory recall of childhood events may be difficult. You may have difficulty with being in a quiet place without feeling anxious and fearful. Thoughts race. You may have suicidal thoughts. You startle easily in response to a noise. Even worse is that no matter how much you try to reason away these irrational symptoms, they just don’t go away. You feel like “I’m going crazy.”
There is good news! You aren’t going crazy! There is a real, and rational reason why you are feeling what I just described. You may have other symptoms too! Traumatic events do affect people dramatically. How dramatic depends on a number of factors. How a person responds to a traumatic event varies also, though, in general, people who have been traumatized share common characteristics. Just remember you aren’t going crazy and that the effects of trauma are varied.
What makes a traumatic event usually has three characteristics: (1) It threatened your safety in some way, (2) It was a surprise. The event caused intense fear and anxiety. (3) When the event occurred you had few choices about how to respond to the event that was dangerous and possibly life threatening. Often people think that trauma has to be extreme to be traumatic. This is not always the case. A number of less horrific event exposures can also cause less intense symptoms, but are, nevertheless traumatic to the person.
People often avoid seeing a therapist. There is a very good reason why! In general, a person does not want to experience those intense feelings over and over again. They are afraid that a therapist will make them talk about the traumatic event(s). We now know that “just talking about it” is not an effective method. Trauma effects the brain profoundly. A traumatized brain looks different on scans than a non-traumatized one. You did not have a choice about how your brain responded to the traumatic event. There exist very effective evidence-based techniques to help a person bring their trauma symptoms under self-control.
There is hope! You don’t have to keep feeling awful. Let’s talk about how you can get to feeling better!