People with emotional trauma often struggle to articulate their experience with it. They may carry it with them for years, embarrassed, ashamed, or even unaware of the impact of a traumatic event on their lives. Many of us minimize or write off our own traumas. We look at the suffering in the world around us and think our troubles seem small in comparison and that our struggle to cope with them is a personal failing of some sort.
Importantly, all trauma is subjective. We all have different capacities to handle it, and what seems like a minor trauma to one person can create a serious wound for someone else. In today’s post, we’ll explore how emotional trauma forms, what it is, and how to recognize signs of it.
Emotional trauma often forms during childhood in response to abuse. Whether physical, emotional, or sexual in nature, all abuse cuts at our sense of safety and certainty in the world, especially when the people who should love us the most become a source of danger. Sometimes that abuse is active—as with a parent who screams and yells at their child, or physically assaults them. In other cases, the abuse is passive in nature. Examples of this include inconsistency and neglect. Think of a parent whose addiction to drugs resurfaces periodically, causing them to abandon or neglect their families.
Other causes of emotional trauma include:
- Unexpected deaths or the loss of a loved one.
- Painful divorce or breakup, especially of a long-lasting relationship.
- Experience with domestic violence, battery, or other physical abuse.
- Growing up in a dangerous or unsafe environment.
- Being the victim of a crime such as physical or sexual assault, violent robbery, and so forth.
- A serious medical diagnosis with life-or-death implications, or the advent of a disability.
No matter the nature of your trauma, the impact is often the same. Our bodies adapt to the loss of our feeling of safety and comfort in the world. As a result, we suffer from anxiety. Our fight-or-flight instinct kicks in, and we learn to survive by becoming hypervigilant, and adopting behaviors that help soothe or numb the pain.
Impacts of Emotional Trauma
Often, people suffering from emotional trauma minimize the impact it’s had on their lives. Low self-esteem keeps some from acknowledging that their pain is worthy of recognition, while others pride themselves on having survived their experiences. Even when they do recognize the impact their traumatic experiences have had on them, it can be difficult for them to connect with others. It’s difficult to relate to people when they’re viewing the world through a lens of safety and comfort that you’ve lost.
Here are some signs you may be struggling with emotional trauma:
- Feelings of shame and self-loathing.
- Lack of focus.
- Difficulty with memory and recall.
- Irritability and inability to control anger.
- Inability to form close, trusting relationships.
- Desire to isolate & distance from others.
- Loss of interest in favorite hobbies and activities.
- Social anxiety in otherwise safe places.
- Tendency toward depression and sadness.
- Substance abuse \ addiction.
In addition, nausea, increased heart rate, indigestion, chronic muscle or back pain, and migraines may also be signs of emotional trauma.
You may be tempted to think of your response to past traumas as a personal failing. We’re often told as children to toughen up, our pain isn’t so bad, or we’re being dramatic. In many ways, that’s a fairy tale we tell ourselves as a coping mechanism.
Just. Be. Stronger. If only it were that easy.
If you’re struggling with emotional trauma, please don’t hesitate to reach out and schedule a free consultation for trauma therapy. You aren’t broken or weak. All humans have a natural, built-in response to trauma. It’s in our blood and our brains, and it’s only by understanding those mechanisms that we can heal and learn to move forward.