What Is Emotional Trauma?
Emotional, or psychological, trauma differs from physical trauma, which is the name for a serious injury to the body. Emotional trauma may not leave a visible mark, but it affects a person’s emotions and behaviors in all areas of their life.
Traumatic events can make a person feel unsafe, overwhelmed, and isolated from their family, friends, and peers. A single experience such as a violent attack, accident, or serious injury can cause emotional trauma. Common life experiences including the end of a significant relationship, the death of a loved one, or a deep disappointment also have the potential to trigger emotional trauma. Other times, the cause is related to ongoing stress, such as living in a bad neighborhood, dealing with a serious illness, repeated bullying, or childhood neglect.
Essentially, emotional trauma is the lasting emotional response an individual has to a frightening or stressful event or series of events. It’s important to remember trauma is highly subjective, so it’s more important to focus on the reaction of the individual than the trigger. Events that can cause lasting trauma in a person vary a great deal.
Signs of Emotional Trauma in Adults
There are some common signs that indicate a person may be experiencing emotional trauma. These symptoms may be cognitive, behavioral, physical, or psychological. Learning to recognize what happens to the body and mind of a traumatized individual is a good tool to understand and identify trauma. Symptoms present differently for everyone, but there are some distinct characteristics to look out for. Emotional and psychological symptoms include:
- Intrusive thoughts
- Mood swings and angry outbursts
- Feelings of guilt or shame
- Detachment from people
- A distinct lack of interest in activities
- Anxiety, depression, or panic attacks
Physical indicators of emotional trauma in an individual may include the following:
- Memory loss
- Trouble sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Changes to appetite
- Racing heartbeat
- Muscle tension or aches
- Edgy and easily startled
- Gastrointestinal issues
This list is not comprehensive, as all sufferers respond differently. Symptoms can also vary in strength and frequency. An individual suffering from emotional trauma may be in a constant state of hypervigilance. Another indication of having adverse reactions to stress is staying locked in a pattern of fight, flight, freeze, or fawn. Trauma that goes untreated can lead to further concerns such as dissociative disorders, PTSD, and substance abuse.
How to Recover from Emotional Trauma
No one has to resign themselves to living with the effects of trauma. It is possible to heal and move beyond it. There are numerous ways to approach trauma recovery. The most important thing is for the individual to try several options until they find the method that resonates with them so they can start to recover.
Lean on Family and Friends for Support
Two of the best approaches for healing from trauma are first, for the individual to find someone they trust to lean on, and, second, to avoid further isolation.
The individual can choose to talk about the trauma or focus on other topics. What is helpful for one person may make the trauma worse for another. Support groups for people coping with trauma can be a source of comfort where the individual can learn techniques to help their own healing journey and remember they are not alone.
A common symptom of emotional trauma is social isolation, but this can make the situation worse. Connections with others are healing, so encourage trauma survivors to nurture their relationships and refrain from spending all of their time alone.
Volunteer work is another wonderful way to reclaim power by helping others, instead of surrendering to the feeling of helplessness.
Practice Self-Care and Compassion
Healing from trauma is not an easy job. There will be times when a memory surfaces and causes negative emotions. The person may encounter a trigger that sparks a severe reaction. Self-care and compassion are necessary to any trauma survivor’s healing journey. Being gentle and patient is important and healthy. Recovery doesn’t happen overnight.
Any behavior that provides comfort and relief is beneficial for self-care. It can be helpful to keep a daily journal. This is a self-care practice that lets the individual release pent-up thoughts and emotions, track progress, and gain a deeper understanding of themselves. Along with these activities, anyone dealing with trauma should get plenty of sleep to help the body and mind slow down and find balance.
Self-Regulate the Nervous System
One of the biggest problems trauma survivors face is emotional dysregulation. They may experience heightened emotions, feel out of control, or react out of context. Recognizing when emotions become heightened and taking action to soothe the nervous system through self-regulation is an excellent way to relieve anxiety and put the individual back into control.
Self-regulation can take the form of practicing mindful breathing when upsetting events occur. A simple strategy is to sit or stand and plant the feet firmly on the ground. Feel the connection and breathe slowly. Alternatively, those with overactive minds find it useful to focus on objects around them in a certain color. This easy practice refocuses the mind. Another self-regulation technique involves the person using sensory calming activities, such as petting a dog, listening to a favorite type of music, or building something out of clay with their hands.
Get More Physical Activity
Trauma can trap someone in a constant state of hyperarousal or fear. The person may find themselves freezing up in stressful situations or lashing out in anger. A great way to restore equilibrium in the body is through regular exercise.
Any type of exercise is beneficial. However, many people dealing with trauma find types of movement that incorporate mindfulness, breathing, and a whole-body approach to be of particular benefit. Some suggestions to try are yoga and qigong. Rhythmic exercises such as walking, running, swimming, or dancing are also great choices. These activities help the individual feel safe in their own body once again.
Avoid Drugs and Alcohol
Drugs or alcohol are never good ideas for someone dealing with emotional trauma. These substances can make the trauma symptoms worse and add new problems. The risk of increased depression, anxiety, and a tendency to isolate is especially worrying.
Find Professional Help
Healing from trauma takes time and effort. It’s possible for someone to recover on their own, but there are many advantages to working with a professional. A trauma therapist has a unique understanding of the pervasive aspects of emotional trauma and is therefore better equipped to help an individual work through the varied and confusing feelings they may experience. Some of the support methods and therapies that have been proven to help people work through their trauma, identify the root cause, recognize triggers, and learn to respond in new, more positive ways are:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Trauma-focused therapy
- Dialectical behavior therapy
- Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
Working with a therapist is an excellent way for someone to get the personalized attention they need to find the right approach and therapeutic methods that deliver relief and healing. It’s crucial for an individual to monitor their behavior and mood and seek out help if they find they are having trouble with day-to-day functioning, relationship problems, bouts of severe negative emotions, or in the inability to move on from constant reminders of the trauma
Learn More About Trauma-Focused Therapy at Beachway Therapy Center
If someone is struggling with the effects of emotional trauma in one or more areas of life, it’s time to get the right kind of help. Beachway specializes in mental health, substance abuse, and dual diagnosis treatment. Beachway has a variety of programs to help a person heal.
Every patient receives a targeted approach to therapy that addresses their specific needs, along with clinical support. The experienced professionals at Beachway work hard to empower all patients so they can recover quickly and benefit from the innovative mental health treatments we provide. Start to heal with help from Beachway. Contact us today to find out more.