What is Trauma ?
When people experience trauma they feel that their physical and/or emotional well -being and survival are under threat and are likely to experience fear, helplessness and horror.
This can be as a result of experiencing a threatening one off event.
Examples of this might be having a car or other type of accident; sexual or physical assault; being involved in or witnessing violence; experiencing an unexpected and or difficult bereavement.
Or trauma may result from experiencing several or many threatening experiences over time. This is sometimes called complex trauma.
Examples of this might be experiencing war/conflict whether as a soldier or civilian; witnessing or experiencing domestic violence, sexual, physical or emotional abuse or neglect. It’s important to note that trauma doesn’t necessarily involve physical harm.
When this kind of trauma occurs in childhood it is sometimes known as developmental trauma This can have a significant impact on a child’s development and their mental health and physical health in the future.
People may not call the difficult experiences they have had trauma. For example it is not unusual for children who’ve been abused to think their experiences are normal as they don’t know any different.
What we do know is that any experience that leaves you feeling overwhelmed, unsafe, scared and alone can be traumatic and that traumatic experiences can have significant consequences.
The effects of Trauma.
But for other people trauma can have long term effects on their mental health, well-being and capacity to manage aspects of their lives This is more likely to happen if the trauma was ongoing and complex, and if there was no one there to believe protect and support them at the time.
It is not uncommon for people who have had traumatic experiences to feel shame, to keep the trauma secret, believing it was their fault. Sometimes they have been told this by a person abusing them, or they may have been threatened and sworn to secrecy and become trapped in an abusive relationship for these or other reasons.
Trauma can affect the way you think, feel, and behave. It can affect the way you feel about yourself, how you relate to other people and feel about the world.
Significantly trauma can affect how you experience your body and often those feelings can leave you feeling unsafe..
resentment, guilt, low mood, fear , anxiety , panic
Feeling tense irritable on edge
Feeling unmotivated helpless powerless
Feeling numb and cut off from emotion
Feeling unable to cope with overwhelming feelings and to calm yourself
Feeling hopeless and that life is without meaning
Believing the trauma was your fault you should have stopped it ;self-blame /shame
Images/memories come into your mind without warning- ‘flashbacks’/ and or nightmares
Poor concentration and memory, racing thoughts
Believing you can trust no one
Being unable to make sense of what happened
THE WAY YOU BEHAVE
Not able to relax/ rest
Avoiding relationships or keeping yourself apart from other people including partners/family
Turning to drugs/alcohol/ smoking/ self- harm as a way of coping
Giving up on interests hobbies
THE IMPACT OF TRAUMA ON YOU BODY
Heart racing /stiff muscles
Exhaustion from being constantly alert and not being able to sleep/rest
In the long term the risk of chronic pain, fatigue, and other health problems
It is understandable that people who have been abused and experienced the world as unsafe might develop these beliefs and that what started as realistic fears may become exaggerated so it can be difficult for them to know what is real and what is not.
If you have experienced trauma and are living with some of the effects described above you may sometimes feel like there is something wrong with you or that you are going mad.
This is not true. What you are experiencing are normal reactions to abnormal events. Our minds and bodies have evolved to react in various ways to try to protect us and keep us safe by avoiding certain situations and by keeping very alert to potential danger. These reactions are instinctive and when you have experienced trauma they can understandably get stuck in a pattern so that you continue to react to even minor things as though you were still in danger.
Similarly our minds and bodies are very resourceful and find a variety of ways of coping with the ongoing effect of traumatic experiences.
As we saw above some of the things people may do to cope can include:
*using self –harm or substances ie: alcohol /drugs/food as a way of managing unbearable feelings and trauma symptoms
*over-working or caring for others to avoid focusing on yourself
It is very important to understand that these coping strategies develop because people have had to deal with abnormal and overwhelming experiences. They are understandable and were an essential part of how they survived traumatic experiences but they may no longer be helpful and actually be causing more problems.
It can be difficult to undo these patterns but it is possible and this is one of the ways in which Trauma Therapy can help.
How can Trauma Therapy help?
This does not mean you will forget what happened to you but you can learn to manage your distress and symptoms; come to terms with your experiences and find ways of connecting more fully to life and increase your well-being.
Recovery from trauma is thought of a being in 3 stages. These were developed first in the work of Judith Herman a therapist who wrote the book ‘Trauma and Recovery’ based on research and many years work with trauma survivors.
My work is based on this three stage approach with a special emphasis on the embodied aspects of trauma and on helping survivors learn to feel safe in their bodies. This is a key aspect of stage one work which prepares the way for further work but which I believe needs to underpin continued work
If you’ve experienced trauma you’ve probably developed some helpful ways of coping with this in order to survive. But if some of your current coping strategies are not helpful there are new coping strategies you can learn which means that over time you may be able to reduce or stop strategies that aren’t helping.
Stage 2. When someone feels safer and is more able to manage distress it can be helpful for them to process their memories of the traumatic experience/s. This will involve talking about them but also expressing and exploring feelings and experiences about the trauma and its impact. This is where a creative arts approach can be particularly helpful as it can capture experiences and feelings that are embodied and difficult to put into words. An important part of this process is grieving what has been lost through the impact of trauma, coming to terms with what happened, and affirming how you have survived.
Stage 3: Reconnecting to life, living in the present and moving beyond the trauma. This is about building on the work of stage one and two to build the life you want to live now and in the future and identifying and growing the resources you need to do that. This might mean pursuing long held goals around new activities, reviewing existing relationships, developing new ones, new work, changing your environment; whatever supports you to live a fulfilled life
Of course some people may not want to talk about their traumatic experiences but they can still benefit from the information and skills covered in stage one.
It’s very important to remember that recovery from any kind of trauma takes time and requires small steps. Taking new information on board and practising new skills can be challenging and takes time and energy. If you decide you would like to try therapy we will work together to consider what is going to be most helpful and realistic for you at this time
Please see the below for sources of further information on trauma and support organisations.
Useful Sources of Information about Trauma
“Healing Trauma” Peter A Levine (2008) .Written for survivors of trauma and professionals, this is a practical guide to using a Somatic Experiencing approach which was developed by Peter Levine in his pioneering work on understanding how the body and mind are impacted by trauma “Waking the Tiger” (1997).
“The Compassionate Mind Approach to Recovering from Trauma” by Deborah Lee and Sophie James (2012) Chapter 2 and 3 provide a good explanation of how the brain and body respond to trauma. A useful self help guide using a more cognitive based approach.
“Breaking Free- Help for Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse”(2018) by Kay Toon and Carolyn Ainscough. A very accessible book about the impact of abuse and how survivors can heal.
Has information on trauma and practical information on dealing with symptoms like flashbacks based on Trauma informed Cognitive Behaviour Therapy approach.
This Welsh university health board has clear accessible and very useful information about trauma and ways of coping with it .
Pods offers information and training for professionals and survivors of childhood sexual abuse especially those who experience dissociation and what is known as dissociative identity disorder. They have helpful publications and material on trauma dissociation and recovery, and relational trauma.
Organisations with Helplines
tel:116 123 or email [email protected]
A national helpline for anyone experiencing emotional distress. Samaritans are best known as a crisis service supporting people who experiencing suicidal thoughts but they make it clear that they can also offer support to anyone going through a tough time.They can also put you in touch with your local Samaritans centre
Provide a free telephone help line for adult survivors who have experienced of any type of childhood abuse as well as information you can download. Tel: 08000 801 0331
Tel: 0808 802 9999
The umbrella organisation for a network of local Rape Crisis centres. They offer information and provide an online chat line. They can put you in touch with your local Rape Crisis Centre for telephone and possibly face to face support. Primarily aimed at women and girls some Rape Crisis centres also have services for boys and men.
National Male Survivors Helpline tel: 0808 800 5005
Young People’s Helpline for under 18s tel: 0808 800 5007.
They also provide information and support online and via text to all who have experienced sexual trauma.
Nb: This is not a crisis service. The Helplines are only open at certain times. In a crisis where you need immediate support it may be best to contact Samaritans