How Trauma Impacts Authentic Expression

asian man looking painedThere 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

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.

Seeking Treatment

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.

References:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. Treatment, Services and Support for PTSD. Retrieved 02/25/14 from: https://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=posttraumatic_stress_disorder
  4. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Retrieved 02/25/14 from: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/post_traumatic_stress_disorder_symptoms_treatment.htm

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Douglas Mitchell, MFTI, therapist in San Francisco, California

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

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  • Everly

    Everly

    March 3rd, 2014 at 10:40 AM

    No matter what kind of traumatic event happens to you, it is sure to have some impact on how you behave and react at a later time.
    There are sneaky little ways that it gets in there and works on you, at times when you may not even realize that this is the culprit.
    If something like this has happened to you then I encourage you to seek out someone you can talk to because this is not something that you want to have to drag with you the rest of your life. Once you resolve these events, then wonderful, you have power over them. Until that time, though, you become powerless and they hold all of that over you. That is no way to live.

  • joan

    joan

    March 4th, 2014 at 3:41 AM

    Going through something like trauma can change who you are and what you think about yourself. How is it possible to even know how to react when those core beliefs may not be there anymore or they may have shifted into something that you may not even recognize?

  • Mitch

    Mitch

    March 5th, 2014 at 3:51 AM

    especially if the trauma is left unresolved

  • Olivia

    Olivia

    March 5th, 2014 at 10:15 AM

    This is all very well and good, but often times the traumatic event/s have been buried, memories of which cannot be recovered, so how do we deal with something when we don’t really know what has happened?

  • marcus

    marcus

    March 9th, 2014 at 6:22 AM

    I saw my dad beat my om up a whole lot when I was a kid, and there were always time somebody would ask me was I ok, and I always said yeah just fine, because what else can you say? I saw my dad beat up my mom? I saw my mom crumple to the florr in tears tying to hold him off? You can’t just talk about that kind of stuff much, until you finally just want to shut down and have other people shut up talking about it. You always hope that not talking will make it go away. It never does.

  • Douglas

    Douglas

    March 10th, 2014 at 6:06 AM

    Thank you all for comments. Trauma is by no means easy to recognize or resolve by yourself. If you have been impacted by trauma, I highly recommend that you seek out a professional that specializes in this type of work. It may take time, yet you will better from it.

    Marcus,
    I’m terribly sorry to hear about what you had to witness. Abuse of any kind can leave lasting impressions that are difficult to shake. In time my hope for you is that your get some resolve so that the impact it had on you is lessened.

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