Trauma survivors often hear, “Forget about it. Move on. It was in the past.” But this is not necessarily accurate. Until they resolve past traumatic experiences, trauma survivors are unable to move on. When trauma survivors find themselves unable to move past the past they might consider seeking the help of a licensed therapist. It is not unusual for those with past traumatic experiences to struggle with emotional difficulties, mental disorders, or physical health concerns and diagnoses.
Many of those who have survived trauma as children struggle as adults with depression, PTSD and other anxiety disorders, relationship difficulties, angry outbursts, alcohol and drug abuse, etc. Trauma survivors can experience physiological changes, too. Sometimes these individuals develop the onset of an illness. Other times their condition worsens for no apparent reason. These conditions are sometimes psychosomatic. This is a condition in which a person feels as if they are told, “It’s all in your head,” “You’re making it up,” or “You’re crazy.”
This is inaccurate. These are real conditions, though a person feels they are crazy, which may have a psychological basis to them. (I hear this frequently from people who have had traumatic pasts.) Psychosomatic means only that it’s a physical disorder caused by or greatly impacted by emotional factors. In other words, there’s a mind-body connection. Never assume any illness or painful condition has a psychological component or cause; always have a medical doctor check before making this assumption.
Survivors of childhood trauma often show some (though not all) of the following symptoms:
- lack of eye contact
- altered pattern of speech
- exhaustion that may be chronic adrenal fatigue
- anxiety (including panic attacks)
- shallow breathing
- chronic back pain
- feeling frozen or an inability to sit still
- having body numbness or feeling as if you are somewhere else
- having poor physical health, fainting, or dizziness
- dry mouth
- finding yourself in the same types of stressful, traumatic, or abusive relationships
- startling easily
- struggling to trust others
- making friends easily, but fearing they won’t like you
- becoming a chameleon
- exerting or avoiding control
- a dependency on others
- fear of trying new things on your own
- hopelessness and helplessness about your life
- fear of rejection
- trying hard not to cry for fear that you can’t stop
- feeling inadequate
- not living your dreams for fear of failure
Many of these physical symptoms can be indicative of a variety of physical illnesses. Sometimes physical illnesses can cause one to function poorly on an emotional level as well. But when physician after physician says there is nothing wrong, don’t give up. Help may be available, especially if you are aware of abuse in your past.
A word of caution. Sometimes people don’t remember past abuse. The reason for this may be either that the child blocked the emotional and physical pain, or they may not have recognized it as abuse, assuming all families lived the same way. So when you are repeatedly told nothing is wrong by your doctor, you owe it to yourself to check with a licensed therapist to see if more might be going on behind the scenes.
© Copyright 2010 by Joyce Thompson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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