Psychological Trauma

Trauma can have lasting and serious effects on the mind and body. If you have experienced abuse in childhood, sexual assault, or other traumatic events, it may be helpful to talk to a psychotherapist who can help you work through your experiences and learn how to move forward. Trauma comes in many forms, but they all have one thing in common – they can have long-lasting and serious effects on your psyche and behavior that impact your relationships, your career, and even your physical health.

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What is psychological trauma?

Psychological trauma is a type of damage to the mind that occurs because of a severely distressing event that is experienced as life-threatening or physically harmful. This can include car accidents, natural disasters, or sexual assault. For many people, the aftermath of a traumatic event can be just as debilitating as the event itself.

Even without physical violence, any circumstance that leaves a person feeling alone, fully overwhelmed, or vulnerable can be traumatic. The objective danger level is not the determining factor in whether an incident is traumatic. A traumatic event is characterized by the subjective emotional feelings of fear and powerlessness.

man looking upset and traumatized

What are the effects of trauma?

Childhood, adolescent, or adulthood trauma can have long-lasting consequences, including persistent emotions of shame, remorse, rage, helplessness, despair, sleep difficulties, and substance misuse.

Trauma sometimes leads to Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and results in symptoms that can include nightmares, flashbacks, anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, and difficulty focusing. PTSD can be debilitating and make it hard to function in everyday life.

There is widespread agreement that traumatic experiences in childhood contribute to the development of depression in adults. Adults who experienced traumatic events as children are more likely to struggle with depression, stress, and sleep disorders. In an effort to alleviate suffering, it is not uncommon for trauma survivors to have problems related to eating, gambling, sex, and/or alcohol and substance use.

Unresolved traumatic childhood events can also manifest as low self-esteem, self-destructive behaviors, intense feelings of guilt or self-blame, problems creating relationships, or difficulty sustaining relationships.

For children who grew up in a violent household or who were abused, aggression may have been a survival tactic. Unless addressed, this aggression tends to persist into adulthood.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have lasting repercussions. Increased mental health issues, self-harm, and harmful behaviors in adolescence and adulthood are correlated with the number of ACEs. ACEs are also associated with physical health issues, including an increased chance of developing cardiovascular problems and other chronic diseases in adulthood.

ACEs can include:

  • Verbal, physical, or sexual abuse
  • Parental neglect
  • Parental alcoholism or substance abuse
  • Mental illness in the home
  • Exposure to violence (including domestic violence)

Trauma-informed care

If you’ve experienced trauma, you may feel like the world is a scary and dangerous place. Trauma-informed care can help you heal and learn to cope with your symptoms.

Psychotherapy is an effective treatment for trauma. It can help people process and make sense of their experiences, develop new coping skills, and recover from the impact of the trauma.

If you’re suffering from the effects of trauma, look for a qualified therapist who specializes in treating trauma and practices trauma-informed care. Recovery from traumatic events can be an arduous process, but it is possible.

References

Grady, M. D., Yoder, J., & Brown, A. (2021). Childhood maltreatment experiences, attachment, sexual offending: Testing a theory. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 36(11-12), NP6183-NP6217.

Negele, A., Kaufhold, J., Kallenbach, L., & Leuzinger-Bohleber, M. (2015). Childhood trauma and its relation to chronic depression in adulthood. Depression Research and Treatment, 650804. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/650804

Rakesh, D., Kelly, C., Vijayakumar, N., Zalesky, A., Allen, N. B., & Whittle, S. (2021). Unraveling the consequences of childhood maltreatment: deviations from typical functional neurodevelopment mediate the relationship between maltreatment history and depressive symptoms. Biological Psychiatry: Cognitive Neuroscience and Neuroimaging, 6(3), 329-342