The Aftermath of Trauma: Four Common Characteristics

young man alone with his thoughtsNo one is immune to trauma, and it is not something that we can always prevent. Life is traumatic. We cannot really plan for disasters, car accidents, loss, and other traumatic events that tend to take place in our lives. One study found that among the population in the Netherlands, 80.7% of participants had experienced a traumatic event (de Vries and Olff, 2009). The study goes on to state that this rate is comparable to the rate of traumatic events experienced in the in the United States. Human beings, no matter how strong, become vulnerable when they experience high levels of stress. Experiencing a traumatic event does not necessarily mean a person will develop posttraumatic stress, but it makes a person more likely to.

People experience trauma to varying degrees. Regardless of the degree of trauma experienced, the journey through trauma recovery can be an emotionally intense process which can, at times, seem daunting. I have noticed four similarities among people who are working through trauma that I felt would be beneficial to write about, as I see these traits so consistently.

  1. Feeling alone and vulnerable: I have had people tell me that experiencing a traumatic event leaves them feeling alone and vulnerable. This is very normal. As I mentioned above, no one is immune to trauma, and even people with a strong sense of self and high self-confidence can find themselves feeling as though they are wandering through the dark alone, with no idea where they are going. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a good support network as one works through trauma. It can make all the difference in the world, especially if one is willing to talk about what they are going through and accept support from others. Wandering around in the dark is terrifying, and we all need other people sometimes to help us get through the dark so we can reach the light.
  2. Experiencing intense emotion: A common experience of someone who has experienced a traumatic event is intense emotion, sometimes at unexpected times and without any known trigger. I have had many people mention that sometimes they will cry for “no reason” or suddenly become angry or afraid, which confuses and sometimes scares them. It is understandable that this would be confusing and scary, but it is normal and just part of the process of working through trauma. Intense emotions and trauma go hand-in-hand, and part of healing is allowing oneself to experience the emotions that come up. I believe that our brains and bodies are perfectly able to work through trauma, but it takes some pain to get to the healing. Trauma is like having an injury—such as a broken bone. In order to heal properly, that bone may have to be reset, which can be very painful. Through the healing process, the bone might continue to cause the person pain, but as the healing progresses, the bone should hurt less as long as it has the proper support and care. Emotions are usually where the pain is for people with trauma. Being willing to experience emotion, and learning skills to appropriately cope, can make those emotions much more bearable and easier to work through. Like a physical injury, when trauma is receiving the proper treatment and support, it will begin to hurt less.
  3. Having disturbing thoughts and/or flashbacks of the trauma: I don’t think I have seen one traumatized person who did not have disturbing thoughts, flashbacks, or both about the traumatic event. This is what trauma does: it tends to stick in one’s brain and pop up, uninvited, whenever it wants. This is nothing to be ashamed of, and this is where support can be helpful in the form of trusted loved ones, support groups, and trauma professionals. There are skills available which tend to be quite effective in addressing these thoughts and flashbacks.
  4. Feeling as though it will never get better: Hopelessness is one of the (unfortunately) common side effects of trauma. The good news is that there are excellent therapeutic interventions that are proven effective in treating trauma. I have treated people who experienced years of severe trauma who have found relief and have been able to have a normal, healthy life. There are several options for treatment, and finding a good therapist who is skilled in treating trauma can make all the difference. It does not matter how long ago the trauma happened or how severe it is. There is always hope for recovery!

Of course, this list is not exclusive.

It is so important that people dealing with trauma know that they are not alone in what they are experiencing and to know there is hope for recovery.


De Vries, G.J., and Olff, M. (2009). The lifetime prevelance of traumatic events and posttraumatic stress disorder in the Netherlands. J Trauma Stress, 22 (4), pp. 259-267.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Marguerite

    September 4th, 2013 at 11:41 AM

    One of the more challenging things is that when you have gone through an event like this there are so many people rallying around you and yet this is a time when inevitably you wind up feeling the most alone and isolated. I guess it is because you feel as if no one will understand what you are feeling if they have not gone through the same sort of ordeal. It is easy to allow yourself to wallow in that self pity and loneliness but the better thing to do is to accept the love that your friends and family are trying to exyend to you because this is a time when you can certainly use that shoulder to lean on and cy on.

  • brit

    September 5th, 2013 at 3:43 AM

    Those feelings of intense emotions?
    So overwhelming, and they hit you when you least expect them and leave you feeling bewildered and then generally misunderstaood because others are wondering what happened to cause that recation.
    You try to explain that it wasn’t just one thing, that something could have sparked a feeling or emotion that you weren’t prepared for and out came all of those feelings that you have been working to deal with, but yet they think this happened to you a long time ago, you should have delt with it by now.
    Trauma is a very complex thing. It is not as if there is a time frame that is set in stone for your individual healing. It is different and unique for everyone and I would encourage you to feel everything and to let it happen at your own pace.
    You will experience the completion of your personal healing journey on your own time frame and in your own way.

  • Austin

    September 9th, 2013 at 3:54 AM

    You know that you should feel thankful that you have survived this, but there are atill days where you can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel and things still feel so hopeless.

  • christy r

    September 18th, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    I suffer from SEVERE PTSD. All of my life it seems like every day something bad happens. Mine started at the age of 6. I remember it like it happened yesterday. Im 38 now. I am in therapy and am doing EMDR with my therapist weekly. Its helping but i re-live every trauma from 38 years daily.

  • Sarah Lionheart

    November 26th, 2013 at 10:03 AM

    I suffer all of these symptoms and each has been very severe. My first big trauma was at six months old which landed me in intensive care and hospital for a very long time. I then had three more before the age of 10. the i suffered three more huge ones as an adult.
    My birth family were not loving, supportive or kind, they were unable to understand. I grew up with no attachment figures. Since therapy, including rewind technique EMDR, CBT and mindfulness, yoga and meditation, I am beginning to come through. The best thing has been to have an adopted mum who adopted me two years ago and is a love to me. I also have a therapist who is like the kind father I never had. These two people are like the solid ground I am at last able to stand on and move forward. It has been a long living hell much understood by people around me.

  • Anastasia Pollock, LCMHC

    November 26th, 2013 at 11:54 AM

    Thank you everyone for your comments. There are so many people out there who have experienced trauma. None of you are alone and that is very important to remember. There is a way out through sound therapy and support from others. Best wishes to all of you as you continue through your journeys.

  • Debbie

    November 26th, 2013 at 3:52 PM

    I’m a recovering addict in my 5th year, my life has been centered around getting my life sorted to which I thought I was doing a great job ! Till I met a lady who has since become a great friend and my therapist who went on to explain that I would of most definitely experienced trauma in my life and this needs to be worked on . I have sessions on a weekly basis which are a struggle but if this needs to be done to pull out that trauma ! Then let the fighting begin

  • rachel

    July 17th, 2014 at 4:56 PM

    I, too, am in recovery. I am proud of you for working on your trauma. S.O.B.E.R. = Son Of a B****, Everything’s Real.
    I remember feeling feelings for the first time in my early sobriety…my first year, especially…and with each year we experience new ones, yes? It can be rough.
    I love that I can name (most of) my feelings now…get through them without drinking. There is such empowerment getting to the other side.
    A wise woman recently discussed the feelings under the feelings…I appreciate that idea…sometimes we do have to uncover more.
    Enjoy your journey!

  • Keri

    October 27th, 2014 at 7:40 AM

    It is frustrating that loved ones don’t understand why I feel alone and the intense emotions. My family’s cruel responses have made my journey all that much more difficult. Drop the negative around you if you want a chance to really heal.

  • Terri

    October 27th, 2014 at 7:57 PM

    My 39 year old son died 10 weeks ago and I was the one who found him. Everyone thought I was being incredibly strong and then I realized I was in shock. When I began grieving so deeply, I wondered if it was normal so I sought grief counseling. My counselor explained PTSD to me and is helping me work through it. I am so thankful to have supportive people around me but I know they can’t understand unless they also have lost a child. I have known deep hurt but I also know deep hope.

  • karen

    January 11th, 2015 at 6:58 PM

    Terri your experience sounds very similar to mine. I too found my son dead in July. I haven’t sought help yet as I don’t know where to turn. My son suffered PTSD and wasn’t given the level of support he required. I am so sad and know I have experienced secondary trauma in relation to his experience. He was in his thirties.i hope i find somewhere to turn if it gets any worse. I hope you are finding the right therapy and support you require too.

  • David

    January 11th, 2015 at 9:53 PM

    “New research is showing that every time we recall an event, the structure of that memory in the brain is altered in light of the present moment, warped by our current feelings and knowledge. That’s why pushing to remember a traumatic event so soon after it occurs doesn’t unburden us; it reinforces the fear and stress that are part of the recollection.”

  • Tonia K

    January 12th, 2015 at 10:13 PM

    Ok here goes I didn’t find my son but my 25 year old died because his meth addition was to strong for him.he was high did some things got arrested and when they found him unresponsive tried to say he swolled a lot of meth.its been since may and I still don’t know the truth.can’t get answers from my just gets better my husband left lost everything I’m homeless and well I could go on.and for some reason people tell me I’m made of steel.everything u read and people that have been thru the same things as u tell the truth if people would just listen.everyday is a new challange.

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