Understanding How Trauma Impacts Behaviour

What is trauma?

Trauma. It’s a word we hear often, yet its actual impact on individuals can sometimes be missed or misunderstood. When we speak of trauma, we’re talking about experiences that shake a person to their core, leaving deep scars on their mind and soul. These experiences could be physical, emotional, or psychological, leaving a lasting imprint on their mental and emotional health.

Picture trauma as a heavy burden carried by the mind and body. It can arise from various sources like accidents, abuse, natural disasters, or witnessing horrifying events like war. But it’s not just about the event itself; it’s about how it’s experienced and processed.

What does trauma feel like?

Imagine your sense of safety and security being ripped away for one minute.

Trauma is like being plunged into a world of fear, anxiety, and constant alertness. Your mind races to make sense of the overwhelming experience, often resorting to protective mechanisms like hypervigilance or dissociation.

Living with trauma can make everyday life feel like an uphill battle. Simple tasks like eating well, sleeping enough, or even just taking a shower can feel like monumental challenges. Holding down a job becomes complicated when the stress of trauma constantly undermines your focus and motivation. Connecting with friends or maintaining healthy relationships can feel impossible when you’re struggling with the aftermath of trauma.

Memory problems, indecisiveness, changes in your sex life, and difficulty coping with change – these are all common struggles for those dealing with trauma. It’s like navigating through a foggy maze where even the most straightforward decisions become overwhelming.

Trauma isn’t a one-size-fits-all experience. Each person’s journey through trauma is unique and influenced by a myriad of factors, including past experiences, resilience, and available support systems. Some individuals may bounce back relatively quickly, while others struggle for years.

It’s essential to approach each case sensitively and understand, avoiding assumptions or judgments about how someone “should” cope.

How does trauma change our behaviour?

Trauma changes the way we view ourselves and the world as a whole. It puts our brains into overdrive, making us hyper-aware and sometimes leading to unusual behaviours. We might always be on edge, scanning for danger, even in safe spaces. Or we might avoid anything that reminds us of the trauma to shield ourselves from the pain. This can also affect our mood, causing irritability, anger, or social withdrawal.

Moreover, trauma can shake the very foundation of our identity. It leaves us feeling worthless, guilty, and ashamed, distorting how we see ourselves and others. The world loses its familiar contours, replaced by a landscape of fear and uncertainty.

Our interactions with others can be profoundly affected. Social cues become distorted, making it hard to form and maintain relationships. We carry a sense of vulnerability that makes us anxious and distrustful in social settings. Our emotions become erratic, leading to misunderstandings and conflicts with those around us.

Trust becomes a rare commodity as we fear exposing ourselves to further pain. Everyday interactions become tense as we navigate between fight, flight, or freeze responses. This can lead to misunderstandings and isolation, deepening our sense of detachment from others.

What’s the long-term impact of trauma?

Trauma doesn’t simply disappear with time.

Its effects can linger for years, even decades, impacting various aspects of a person’s life. Some individuals may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that typically arises after experiencing a traumatic event such as a car crash, war or sexual assault. From this, they may experience flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety long after the traumatic event has passed. Others may struggle with depression, substance abuse, or chronic health conditions linked to their trauma.

For others who have suffered from a series of traumatic events like abuse, bullying or neglect, they may develop complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).  With complex PTSD, they might find themselves prone to what’s often referred to as an “emotional flashback.” During these episodes, they may relive intense emotions—like fear, shame, sadness, or despair—that they initially experienced during the traumatic event.

Recognising and addressing these long-term effects is essential for promoting healing and recovery.

What help is available for someone suffering from trauma?

While trauma can have devastating effects, some strategies and interventions can help individuals cope and heal:

  • Therapy: Seeking therapy, particularly trauma-focused therapies like Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR), can provide individuals with tools to process their trauma and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
  • Supportive Relationships: A strong support network of friends, family, or support groups can provide validation, empathy, and understanding, crucial for healing from trauma.
  • Self-Care Practices: Engaging in self-care activities such as exercise, mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and hobbies can help reduce stress and promote emotional well-being.
  • Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage symptoms of trauma, such as depression, anxiety, or sleep disturbances. Working closely with a healthcare provider to find the proper medication and dosage is essential.
  • Educating Yourself: Learning about trauma and its effects can help individuals understand their experiences and develop a sense of empowerment and control over their healing journey.
  • Advocating for Change: Advocating for policies and practices that address the root causes of trauma, such as poverty, discrimination, and violence, can help prevent future traumas and create a more supportive environment for survivors.

By incorporating these strategies into their lives, individuals can take meaningful steps towards healing and recovery from trauma.

Healing from trauma is a tough road. Someone suffering from trauma can’t just ‘get over it’ because it’s not just a memory of a horrible life event – it’s a developmental and physical response. It’s our brains and bodies’ way of trying to cope with terrifying situations where we feel utterly powerless. It’s our survival instincts kicking in, making us react strongly to ensure we stay safe.

It’s our bodies saying, “Hey, let’s not go through that again!” The symptoms we experience—like avoiding reminders, staying on high alert, having flashbacks, or feeling constantly on edge—are our body’s way of trying to protect us.

Recognising these effects is crucial for supporting those who have experienced trauma. It requires empathy and understanding to help them heal and recover. We can build healthier relationships and foster a more compassionate world by embracing trauma-informed approaches.

Trauma leaves a lasting mark on individuals, shaping their behaviour and interactions in profound ways. It’s essential to acknowledge and address trauma, not just for individual healing but for the well-being of society as a whole.