Traumatic experiences and psychological trauma can cause you to feel helpless, lower your self-esteem and affect your mental health longer-term.

What is trauma?

Trauma is a response to situations and events that you find distressing, overwhelming, frightening and difficult to control.

Trauma can occur from one-off or ongoing events, being harmed or witnessing someone else being harmed, living in a traumatic atmosphere and being affected by trauma in your family or community.

If you have been affected by trauma, remember you survived the experience however you were able to. It is ok to ask for help at any time. Therapy can help you to process the symptoms you are experiencing.

What is a traumatic experience?

Often traumatic situations involve threats to your safety but any experience that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and stressed can result in trauma. Objective circumstances do not determine whether an event is traumatic. This is why you may have similar experiences to someone else but be affected differently. Trauma is a personal, subjective experience. You may experience the effects of trauma straightaway or a long time afterwards.

Processing trauma with the help of a trained professional can help you to manage the effects that trauma has on your life.

Traumatic experiences and events can include situations where you feel:

  • scared
  • frightened
  • threatened
  • humiliated
  • rejected
  • abandoned
  • invalidated
  • unsafe
  • unsupported
  • trapped
  • ashamed
  • powerless

What is childhood trauma?

Trauma can happen to anyone, at any stage of your life. Experiencing trauma in childhood can result in long-lasting effects, such as a sense of fear, lack of safety and trust, and feelings of helplessness that carry over into adulthood.

Childhood trauma can result from anything that disrupts a child’s sense of safety, for example:

  • separation from a parent
  • humiliation
  • an unstable, frightening or unsafe environment
  • feelings being invalidated
  • serious illness
  • intrusive medical procedures
  • sexual, physical, emotional or verbal abuse
  • domestic violence
  • neglect

What are the signs of trauma?

Trauma responses can vary significantly from one person to the next. For some, the effects of trauma may happen quickly after an event. For others, deeper troubles may surface a long time afterwards. Common symptoms can include:

  • sadness
  • shock
  • denial/disbelief
  • shame
  • guilt
  • anger
  • denial
  • fear
  • shame
  • difficulty concentrating
  • irritability
  • mood swings
  • nightmares
  • insomnia
  • difficulty with relationships
  • feeling hopeless
  • feeling disconnected or numb
  • emotional outbursts
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • altered sleep patterns or insomnia
  • changes in appetite
  • headaches
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • fatigue
  • racing heartbeat
  • muscle tension

Trauma can also be linked to mental health conditions, including:

What therapy is best for trauma?

There are many approaches available to help you find relief from the effects of trauma on your life. Research suggests that it is your relationship with your chosen therapist, as opposed to their specific approach, that is particularly important.

Types of therapy you may find helpful for trauma include:

Psychodynamic psychotherapy, which helps you to make links between your past experiences and how you feel and act in the present. This therapy is particularly useful for childhood and early trauma.

Body-focused therapies, such as EFT. These address how trauma impacts your body, as well as your mind.

Eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR), which involves making rhythmic eye movements while recalling a traumatic event. EMDR is most commonly used to treat post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Cognitive behavioural therapy, which focuses on how your thoughts and behaviours are linked.

Cognitive analytic therapy (CAT), which looks at how past events and relationships can affect how you think, feel and act.

Schema therapy, which helps address unmet needs and difficult beliefs about yourself.

How to find a therapist for trauma

Even if your trauma happened many years ago, there are steps you can take to overcome the effects and regain your sense of emotional balance and personal safety. Talking therapies for trauma give you private, safe space to explore difficult feelings and memories with a trained therapist.

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