Overcoming Trauma: Not Your Fault, But Your Responsibility

Most people experience a traumatic event at some point in their lives. You may survive a car accident that injures or kills a loved one, experience violent crime, or live through a medical emergency or serious illness that changes your life. Avoiding trauma isn’t possible, but learning to identify a trauma response and developing strategies to help you overcome trauma can ensure you don’t experience long-term ill effects.

At SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services, we know that trauma is a mental health issue. We understand how it can impact your life if left unresolved. That’s why this blog educates you about trauma and how it can affect your life, then gives tips for resolving traumatic experiences so you can continue building your dream life. Overcoming trauma is your responsibility, even though the trauma itself is not your fault.

Trauma: Definition and Causes

Trauma is often associated with veterans returning from war. However, trauma can impact anyone at any age. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as 

“any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other disruptive feelings intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, behavior, and other aspects of functioning. Traumatic events include those caused by human behavior (e.g., rape, war, industrial accidents) as well as by nature (e.g., earthquakes) and often challenge an individual’s view of the world as a just, safe, and predictable place.”

Trauma is not one-size-fits-all. You may experience the same event as someone else and have a trauma response while the other person is not bothered. If you’ve experienced a life-threatening or safety-threatening experience, your brain often has trouble processing it because our brains like predictability and reliable patterns. These traumatic experiences can have far-reaching effects on your life and health. You may have psychological trauma or changes in the way your brain works if trauma is not resolved.

Physical and Behavioral Manifestations of Unresolved Trauma

Trauma does not have to harm your life. However, if your trauma is not resolved and you aren’t able to heal from it, you may experience a variety of manifestations in your health and behavior. This is because traumatic events cause your body to activate its fight or flight response; if left unresolved, your nervous system stays in that elevated stress response and affects the rest of your body. The manifestations of unresolved trauma include:

  • Lack of interest in work or hobbies.
  • Reckless behavior.
  • Fear, anger, shame, or guilt.
  • Irritability with loved ones.
  • Flashbacks of the distressing event.
  • Feeling tense or experiencing unexplained pain.
  • Being forgetful and having trouble concentrating.
  • Stronger and more frequent surges of adrenaline.
  • Mental health conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, and symptoms of PTSD.
  • Cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure, stroke, or heart attacks.
  • Inflammation in the body may contribute to autoimmune disorders.
  • Obesity and cancer.
  • Substance use disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder has similar symptoms to those you may experience immediately after a traumatic event. However, PTSD is when the body fails to regulate to a normal emotional state, and you live in a heightened state of arousal. Working through trauma’s emotional and psychological impacts is easiest when it’s done as soon as possible after the event. We can’t avoid all traumatic events as we navigate life, but we do need to develop the tools to handle the complex emotions and thoughts they can trigger.

Learning to manage traumatic experiences and process them appropriately will help you avoid mental illness and physical health problems associated with trauma. It can also help ensure the health of your relationships with family members, romantic partners, coworkers, and employers. The manifestations of trauma affect every area of your life. Getting support and having tools for recovering from trauma can ensure your well-being no matter what happens.

6 Tips for Trauma Recovery

How you navigate trauma depends on several factors, including what the event was, how long ago the distressing event occurred, how old you were at the time, and how others spoke of (or didn’t speak of) the event. Here are some tips if you recently experienced a traumatic event such as a car accident or the onset of a serious illness and want to process the trauma appropriately, so you don’t suffer long-term.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings without judgment. They don’t last forever, so feel them, honor them, and move on when you’re ready. People react differently to different experiences, so take time to think and feel the way you need to right now.
  2. Try not to let yourself relive the traumatic experience repeatedly. Viewing images in your mind on repeat can cause your nervous system to remain in fight or flight and make it hard to think clearly. Keep yourself busy with activities you enjoy and that stimulate your mind. Reading, watching a movie, and spending time with loved ones can help you stay present in your current moment instead of rehashing the trauma.
  3. Find comfort in routines. Returning to your everyday routines (or as close to normal as possible) can help your brain relax and reduce hopelessness and anxiety. If you can’t go to work, create a structure for regular meals, sleep, exercise, and time with others.
  4. Don’t make any major life decisions until your body and mind readjust to your new normal. Often, traumatic events cause significant changes in our lives, but please avoid making any additional changes. Your brain is already stressed, and changing your career, family situation, or living space can add extra stress and lead to burnout.
  5. Create a self-care practice that supports you daily, with added strategies for when you’re especially triggered. Perhaps your daily routine consists of journaling, meditation, exercise, and deep breathing. When you feel overwhelmed by recollections of the distressing event, you can add other strategies for calming your stress reactions, such as therapy or seeing a support group.
  6. See a qualified mental health care clinician. When trauma isn’t processed correctly, or if it still affects you after some time, you may want additional help and support.

Get Help Overcoming Trauma

Now you know that trauma is how your brain reacts to difficult events. Trauma is not your fault, but you’re ready to take back control and make recovering from trauma your priority. Seeking therapy to help you overcome trauma or deal with mental illness that results from trauma requires strength. You recognize that you need help to create the life you deserve, free from anxiety, fear, and painful symptoms. When looking for professional help, you want a mental health professional who uses evidence-based treatment strategies, has experience with all forms of trauma and will provide the compassionate space you need to improve your wellness.

At SMPsychotherapy, we provide mental health services for trauma recovery. Many of our clinicians are trained in many psychotherapy techniques, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), that are proven to work on trauma recovery. We work with children, adolescents, and adults. We provide treatment in individual, couple, and family settings via telehealth. You don’t need to suffer from the long-term effects of trauma.  Contact our office today to schedule an appointment for trauma-recovery therapy.

Want more? 

For more about surviving and thriving through trauma, get on the waitlist for the new book, Unbreakable, by Soribel Martinez, LCSW, CEO of SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services. The book releases in Spring 2023. It’s a story of one woman’s journey through adversity and how you can use her principles to build the life of your dreams. Book on pre-sale now!

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