What does it mean to have been traumatized? Although most of us think of trauma as a single incident (an assault, an accident, a natural disaster, etc.) a trauma to the mind and body can occur in any situation that overwhelms the brain's ability to process information adaptively. As such, trauma exists on a continuum, and a variety of events can have a long lasting traumatic impact.
The dictionary offers us three definitions:
- Trauma: an injury to living tissue caused by an external agent
- Trauma: a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury
- Trauma: an emotional upset
According to these definitions, trauma can be inflicted whether or not there is some sort of bodily harm. Indeed, many people are traumatized after having only witnessed a traumatic event. Sometimes, trauma can occur after person hears about a traumatic event. Whether or not there are visible marks or scars left on the body, there are often invisible scars that, when left untreated, can be just as damaging, if not more so, than leaving a broken bone unset. Indeed, research has shown that emotional abuse and/or neglect tends to be more psychologically damaging than physical abuse. This is not to say that everyone who has suffered a trauma in his or her life has been "traumatized" and needs therapy. As humans, we are extremely resilient and many of us can experience an emotional or physical trauma and recover on our own without any need for outside support.
Sometimes, however, the intensity of the experience overwhelms our natural abiliy to heal, and we are left with symptoms such as:
- Intrusive memories
- Difficulty sleeping
- Bodily or emotional reactions to things that remind us of the event
- Avoidance of certain places, people, or things
- Panic attacks
Although we try to cope as best we can with these symptoms, frequently our innate coping mechanisms are overpowered by the severity of our symptoms. When this happens, it is common for people to reach out to things that help them forget or numb their pain. For example, through:
- Drugs and alcohol
- Risk taking behaviors such as risky sex or gambling
- Tumultuous relationships
- Supression of all feelings
- Self-injurious behaviors such as cutting
If you think you may be suffering from untreated wounds as a result of trauma, therapy can help!
**According to the World Health Organization's 2013 Guidelines for the Management of Conditions Specifically Related to Stress, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) are the only treatment modalities recommended for the treatment of stress disorders.
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