Trauma Changes Your Beliefs
Humans are built to adapt to environmental stressors. Although there is bad stress, there is also such a thing called good stress. We refer to this stress as eustress or the kind of stress we experience while watching a thrilling movie, running a race, or interviewing for a job. It’s the kind of stress that we experience without fear or threat of danger, and we usually have some type of control over this somewhat expected situation. You can turn off the TV, opt out of the competition, or decide to stay on the job until you’re really ready for another one. But too many unanticipated or uncontrolled fear-causing situations can become bad stress. And bad stress can turn into trauma. Trauma is anything that negatively shapes or changes our belief in ourselves, others, or the world around us to a foreshortened future.
“Trauma can affect one's beliefs about the future via loss of hope, limited expectations about life, fear that life will end abruptly or early, or anticipation that normal life events won't happen..."
What is Traumatic Stress and How Common is PTSD?
Traumatic stress is a common reaction to trauma. According to the National Center for PTSD, about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will likely experience PTSD at some point in their lives, with women more likely to develop it than men. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can manifest itself through flashbacks, vivid memories, and recurrent incident-related dreams or nightmares, or night terrors. It can cause avoidance of certain places that may trigger specific memories or events to avoid re-experiencing the trauma. Therapy helps to restore emotional balance to your life.
“Traumatic stress reactions are normal reactions to abnormal circumstances.” Yes, believe it or not, fatigue, depression, anxiety, irritability, lack of connection, dissonance, disorientation, and even physical response are all normal, acute reactions to stressful situations. But that doesn’t mean you have trauma or PTSD. In fact, most people will return to baseline homeostasis, meaning the way they were before the trauma occurred. Those likely to return to normal have a sound support system (think church/mosque, mentor, or extended family) and can be especially resilient. Some will turn the trauma into an opportunity for personal growth through reflection, gaining new insights, a renewed sense of purpose, direction, or commitment. But the type of trauma, duration of it, and frequency will all play a role in the recovery process of an individual.
What is Emotional and Psychological Trauma?
Predictability is a part of what makes us feel secure in our world. Removing predictability can have massive consequences. Take your most basic needs. Physiological needs like breathing air, drinking water, eating food, having a home to go to, sleeping every night, or wearing the clothes on our backs, are all basic needs that most of us have fulfilled every day. We do take extra measures like guarding our homes with alarm systems and password protecting our electronics every day. We safeguard our personal security while doing things like traveling or going on a vacation. But when we come back home, we usually aren’t worried or stressed about losing our belongings or jobs. We haven’t gone away thinking we’ll come back to lost relationships, the sudden death of a loved one, or the inability to breathe. Our baseline of what is “normal” comes from a rehearsal of everyday events, which tell us not to worry or stress about our security in those needs being met.
Emotional and psychological trauma, however, happens after an abnormally stressful event attacks our sense of security. The attack threatens our physical or mental safety, causing stress and making us feel like the world is no longer safe. If the feeling of anxiety, fear, and overwhelming emotions won’t go away, you might be wrestling with psychological or emotional trauma. The inability to trust and connect with others can also be signs of emotional trauma.
Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes but does not have to cause physical harm to result in psychological damage. Likewise, experiencing a traumatic event does not mean the person will be traumatized. Every person will react differently, and it is their perception of the experience that determines the outcome. “The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized.”
Understanding Different Types of Trauma:
A general injury, perhaps from a car wreck, combat, family, or romantic partner, is considered physical trauma.
As the body can be wounded, so can the mind. Sexual trauma can include rape and molestation. It can be a result of an assault against the body, causing mistrust and fear for safety.
Intense, disturbing experiences that disrupt feelings can result in emotional trauma, often bringing confusion, fear, hopelessness, and other intense emotions beyond the short-term.
Economic or financial abuse threatens or restricts a person’s financial freedom or security. Financial trauma consists of feelings of powerlessness to control financial circumstances that cause overwhelming stress.
An individual or a system can inflict spiritual abuse. A spiritual abuser attempts to control, manipulate or dominate others. Spiritual trauma affects the mind, will, and emotions.
Witnessing of violence
Experiencing violence personally is not the only way the mind records traumatic experiences. Witnessing violence or aggression with the intent to injure someone (assault, battery, attack) can still require therapy to work through issues that the brain has recorded traumatic experiences. Witnessing violence or aggression with the intent to injure someone (assault, battery, attack) can still require therapy to work through issues that the brain has recorded as traumatic.
Causes of emotional and psychological trauma:
One-time traumatic events: You may have only experienced it once, but an unexpected event, an injury, or a violent attack could cause trauma, especially if the event occurred during childhood.
Repetitive, chronic, and ongoing stressful events that challenge your safety and threaten your security can be responsible for causing trauma as well. Whether it be living in an unsafe environment of high crime, being teased at school, or domestic violence.
Sudden loss or death: Losing a loved one physically or emotionally can impact a person heavily.
Indirect Trauma: Hurricanes, storms, and even war can come to your fingertips when living in the age of information and technology. Last summer, the social media wave on police brutality and the killing of George Floyd, for example, bombarded netizens with images and graphic details that can be overwhelming and distressing to mental health, especially in certain marginalized communities.
What is Childhood Trauma?
Children who do not comprehend the logistics of what is happening may still be traumatized by the sense of danger and discord, if not more so than adults, as they cannot rationalize events. The myth that children are “so resilient” they will not recall or be affected by early childhood events is contrary to what research suggests. As children continue to develop their frontal cortex, which continues until about 21 years of age, trauma can affect their cognitive development, learning behaviors, health, ability to regulate emotions, and capacity to withstand stressful events.
Many kinds of trauma can occur in childhood, yet be pervasive throughout adolescence and even persist into adulthood. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network lists 12 common types of childhood trauma:
- Community Violence
- Complex Trauma
- Early Childhood Trauma
- Intimate Partner Violence
- Medical Trauma
- Physical Abuse
- Refugee Trauma
- Sexual Abuse
- Terrorism and Violence
- Traumatic Grief
How Do I Know If I've Been Traumatized?
A traumatic experience disturbs a person, regardless of the number of times it happens. Some people can recall a specific situation that caused trauma, whereas others have chronic, recurring experiences that caused trauma.
What Are the Main Sources of Trauma?
An overwhelming negative event can cause a lasting impact on a person's mental and emotional stability. Many sources of trauma are physical, others are psychological. Common sources of trauma include:
- Rape or sexual assault
- Domestic violence or intimate partner violence
- Natural disasters
- Severe illness or injury
- The death of a close relative
- Being a witness to violence
What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) has often been cited as a breakthrough therapy for overcoming anxiety, stress, and trauma. EMDR is a psychotherapy treatment with the goal to alleviate stress from traumatic memories by reprocessing.
How Does EMDR Therapy Help With Trauma?
People with PTSD manifest fragmented memories because the amygdala does not allow them to process their emotions completely. They speak in a fragmented form because their memories have been fragmented. Therefore, traumas are not treated effectively by talk therapy alone. In fact, it is similar to emotionally cutting. However, once you gain control over your nervous system and integrate positive beliefs, it reduces and eliminates PTSD symptoms, and you are in a good place to process your feelings. It is then that World of Hope counselors can work with the brain's amygdala to eliminate symptoms to reduce panic. This is why EMDR is so effective.
When Should I Contact a Professional?
When your daily activities, personal relationships, school, or work suffer, it’s time to seek professional help. Our counselors give hope to those who feel hopeless. Whether it be trying to overcome obsessive thoughts, emotional outbursts, aggressive behavior, withdrawal, insomnia, or other symptoms of trauma, we provide help through stress management, EMDR, and other therapies to cope with the emotional impact of trauma. If you are ready to begin your journey to overcome, contact World of Hope Counseling Center in San Antonio, Texas. Your journey can begin today.