The word trauma is one that is being increasingly used, understood but also misunderstood. Often there is something really powerful when someone realises that the feelings they are struggling with are those of feeling traumatised. Once identified it is possible to find a way forward.
In this blog post we look at trauma, ASD – Acute Stress Disorder and PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In psychology, a PTSD diagnosis is applicable to people presenting symptoms once a month has passed since the traumatic event.
A whole range of emotions can be triggered by an event that for many connects to key life concerns such as security, belonging, identity, relationships and hope for the future to name a few. Misunderstanding exists around what is a traumatic event and to understand what might be understood as a traumatic event what you really need to do is focus on the person who had the experience. It is not the event itself that causes the trauma but it is the impact of the event on the person that is key.
Unfortunately there is such scope for judgement around this and it is often the case that traumas go untreated because the sufferer fears the embarrassment or shame that might come from another person’s adverse reaction. So often when someone struggles with something it results in negative and critical self-talk for example, someone might think to themselves, ‘it didn’t kill you, you should count yourself lucky’. Or faced with someone who appears to be reacting irrationally to an otherwise ‘small’ event it is common for a person to say something like ‘you are over-reacting’.
It is also common for people to manage traumatic events and for them to find themselves triggered by an event much later in life. Sometimes something happens that connects in some way with a previous trauma and that results in a reaction which in relation to the later event does appear irrational or illogical but can make sense when in the context of a previous trauma.
If you are wondering about whether you are experiencing trauma after an event, take some time to think about whether you have started to change how you are living on a day to day basis. Has how you experience or spend your days changed? Are you spending more time following the news / social media, are all your relationships as they were before, are you eating and exercising or have you slipped into some bad habits?
If the answer to any of these is yes then the key is regaining balance. If you are doing things that add to your stress and anxiety levels then either think about reducing the negative activities or add in other positive things to counteract the effects. This is important because if you do not take corrective action then you could end up with a stress or anxiety disorder.
There is a growing confusion around trauma and how it impacts people. Trauma triggers are identified as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury or sexual violation and the person will have directly experienced the event, witnessed it, learnt of it concerning a close family member or friend or, have been exposed to the details of the event.
Faced with a traumatic incident it is normal for a person’s survival instincts to activate, so “fight, flight or fright” are the primary physiological responses combined with difficult thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. However, it is the symptoms that present following the event which are used to consider whether someone may need treatment.
In the weeks immediately following a traumatic event, it would be usual to diagnose an Acute Stress Disorder or ASD. Sufferers with ASD will have the same symptoms as those with PTSD but not everyone who suffers trauma and ASD will go on to have PTSD.
The symptoms are grouped into four clusters and include reliving the event (in dreams or through flashbacks), having distressing memories, thoughts or feelings as reminders of the event, then a range of cognitive experiences including memory loss, distorted thinking, wanting isolation and finally “arousal”. So being hyper-vigilant, experiencing sleep problems and/or reckless or self-destructive behaviour, one example might be the use of alcohol.
If you have struggled with your feelings and there is the possibility of them being connected to an event, do not rush to discount trauma on the basis that it was an insignificant event. In reality it may well be that you do not yet realise it’s significance! If you are struggling and think you might be suffering with recent or historical trauma then treatment is possible.
Psychotherapist, Counsellor, Couples Counsellor and Coach
UKCP registrant, MBACP (accred), UKRCP
PGDip, MA, Adv Dip Ex Psych
Nicholas Rose & Associates
Counselling, psychotherapy and coaching for children, adults, couples and families.
Read more blogs by Nicholas Rose
Read the enxt in the series – Mind Matters – Knowing when to give up
Read the previous one – Mind Matters – Talking about vaccine hesitancy?
See all Nicholas’s Mind Matters blogs here
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