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  • Writer's pictureMaria Alda Gomez Otero

8 trauma symptoms that may surprise you

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

Most of us believe that #trauma is something horrendous that will only happen in extreme circumstances. We often think of child abuse, rape, natural disasters, warfare, terrorism, etc. as examples of trauma. That was the belief shared by most health practitioners, including mental health ones not too long ago. However, in recent times and in line with new neuroscience discoveries and research done with brain scans, we know that trauma is a normal part of growing up, of being human. A traumatic event or series of events or living under hard conditions can be a trauma. This includes debilitating illnesses, the death of a loved one, a car accident, being brought up by abusive parents or neglectful ones, a medical intervention as a child, the separation of your parents or their constant fighting.

Any of these things can be experienced as traumatic or not, depending on the person’s sensitivity and past history. Trauma is therefore subjective to one’s experience, but when it is felt, it can leave many sequels. Common symptoms of trauma are depression, irritability, hypervigilance, mistrust, shame, self-loathing, suicidality, social anxiety, panic attacks. Trauma can be developmental (occurring during our development, in our childhoods) or events that we experience as adults.

As a child, we learn to regulate our emotions. Our parents are our emotion “regulators”, so when a child gets too angry, excited, scared, etc. and their nervous system activation is too much for them, a good enough parent would calm them down and they would achieve homeostasis (balance). If parents observe that a child is bored or numb, they would stimulate them so that they would feel more activated. However, a child could experience a less than good enough parenting in which parents were not there to calm them down during times of extreme arousal, such as feeling extreme fear or anger; or parents were themselves the abusers; or parents were not helping a child to get out of their boredom or apathy. Our bodies then adapt to this situation in order to survive by bringing our nervous system to a state of hyperarousal (too activated) or hypoarousal (very little activation), beyond our optimal arousal zone as human beings.

As a result, as an adult you may find yourself experiencing a high activation of your nervous system, as an adaptive way for your body to cope or a very low activation of your nervous system.

If your nervous system is hyperaroused, you may experience some of these symptoms:

1) Impulsivity: Have you ever found yourself following a hunch and ending up wasting your time, your money or worst your marriage?

2) Racing thoughts: Do you often find yourself ruminating about how things are, ought to be, or having intrusive negative thoughts that you don’t seem to be able to stop?

3) Post-traumatic paranoia: Your boss doesn’t like you, your friends are constantly making fun of you, no one wants to be around you. Have you ever thought that maybe these feelings that feel so real have more to do with a traumatic event than your reality?

4) Self-destructive behaviour: You create something very special for yourself, i. e. a relationship, a job, a great friendship and, for reasons that you are not too sure about, you end it, or someone else ends it, or something happens and it needs to end. Have you ever thought that you may be responsible for this loss as your body has created this adaptive self-destructive symptom to help you cope?

If your nervous system is hypoaroused, you may experience some of these symptoms:

1) Feeling empty: Feelings of emptiness are very common in trauma survivors who have a very low activation in their nervous system.

2) Being lazy: During low nervous system activation, your cognitive functioning is slowed, so it takes you longer to do tasks that other people can do very quickly. You may then be labelled as lazy or slow, but it was your body’s coping strategy to survive your trauma.

3) Self-loathing: If you ever experience this feeling, you know how debilitating it can be. You feel like nothing that you do is ever good enough, that you are faulty, that others have to put up with you, and it surprises you that they do. Maybe you are not as hateful as you are making yourself believe. This self-hatred may well be your adaptive way to coping with early trauma.

4) Victim identity: You tend to blame others for your problems as a way to make yourself into a victim so that you can’t get hurt. This may be your body’s adaptive way of coping with trauma.

If any of these symptoms resonate with you, you may have experienced some traumatic event in your past. When trauma happens, the areas of your brain that store memories in your past are not available, so some of those feelings feel very present, as if they were real now. With the help of a skilled therapist, you can “tidy up” your brain and leave uncomfortable feelings, thoughts and behaviours behind. It is worth it. Imagine a life free of negativity? It is possible. You can create better relationships, find the confidence you lack, increase your self-esteem, be in control of your life.

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