There are different kinds of trauma, but in general an experience can be considered traumatic when what is happening threatens to overwhelm those involved, making them feel helpless. Some types of traumatic experiences can have long-lasting and far-reaching consequences.
The body is programmed to work in a specific way when faced with a threat. The heart rate increases, and muscles are supplied with more blood in the event running becomes necessary. While this is happening, less important bodily functions temporarily shut down as the body readies itself for “fight or flight.”
Studies show that the areas of the brain involved with emotional responses, thinking processes, and memory storage become less active. This can lead to experiences not being processed or “integrated” by these various brain functions at the time the traumatic event is happening.
Trauma and Emotional Response
Some people find that posttraumatic stress (PTSD) follows life-threatening events such as an earthquake, a tsunami, a sexual assault, or war-zone encounters. It can affect those who go through the event, individuals who witness it, and people who come later, such as first responders and those who just happen onto the scene.
As time passes, memories, thoughts, and feelings of the trauma can surface unexpectedly in a disconnected and confusing fashion, making it difficult for those who deal with severe forms of PTSD to get on with the challenges of daily life.
Scientists, doctors, psychologists, and counselors are still studying and learning about the effects and consequences of different types of trauma on the human psyche. Not all traumatic experiences will lead to identifiable PTSD, but it is generally understood that the effects of an unintegrated experience can be unexpected and often will occur without warning.
The way a person responds emotionally can be profoundly affected. An unintegrated traumatic experience can affect how an individual meets the world and his or her ability to be authentic.
Being authentic means to act in a way that is consistent with, and in accordance with, one’s core beliefs. It isn’t hard to see that a person dealing with the disconnects associated with unprocessed trauma will inevitably come face to face with the fact his or her emotional responses don’t always reflect true beliefs and intentions.
The person may wish to express a loving feeling, for example, but the sheer emotional vulnerability of such an expression may result in withdrawal from the very people he or she holds near and dear. When repressed and left unexamined, the fragmented thoughts and feelings associated with traumatic events often find expression in behaviors that impede and distort authentic expression.
After a traumatic experience, it is normal for the people involved to have mixed emotions—to feel angry, sad, and anxious. They may also feel disconnected from other people and their surroundings. This is to be expected, is normal, and may fade as time passes.
For some, though, these feelings don’t fade.
There are a variety of successful treatment options for people experiencing the effects of trauma, and there is no shame in opting for therapeutic interventions. There are identifiable biological reasons for post-trauma difficulties that have nothing to do with culturally rooted ideas of who is weak and who is strong.
To overcome the effects of trauma, it is essential to meet what happened head-on. Doing this with the support of a knowledgeable therapist will help ensure that the traumatic event becomes a successfully integrated past experience and support the healthy expression of authenticity.
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the Family. Retrieved 2/22/14 from: http://www.veterans.gc.ca/eng/mental-health/publications/ptsd-families#cn-tphp
- Goldman, Brian M. (under the direction of Michael H. Kernis) (2004). Interrelated Roles of Dispositional Authenticity, Self-Processes and Global Role Functioning in Affecting Psychological Adjustment. Retrieved from: http://athenaeum.libs.uga.edu/bitstream/handle/10724/7885/goldman_brian_m_200412_phd.pdf?sequence=1
- Treatment, Services and Support for PTSD. Retrieved 02/25/14 from: https://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=posttraumatic_stress_disorder
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Retrieved 02/25/14 from: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/post_traumatic_stress_disorder_symptoms_treatment.htm
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