Three Ways Trauma Affects You
By Zach Rawlings, CCASA Guest Blogger
Many people minimize the effects of a traumatic event. However, more and more evidence is mounting that tells us that trauma is more pervasive than we once thought, and it is usually important to seek professional treatment in order to live a more productive life.
To understand how deeply trauma impacts us when it occurs, we must look at its physical, generational, and emotional effects. Although not everything warrants professional help or alarm, some things do because they can trigger a negative impact for years to come. When it occurs, trauma has three main effects. Together, they explain why trauma influences our emotions and responses so negatively.
First, trauma literally changes the brain. It changes how the brain works, and if the trauma is prolonged (as in the cases of children who were sexually or physically abused repeatedly by a perpetrator), it can actually physically injure the brain (Howard & Crandall, 2007).
When something stressful occurs, our brain essentially gives an alert that we are in danger. If the trauma never lets up, or it is unpredictable when it will occur again, then our brain can get stuck in alert mode. While the brain is in alert mode and using high amounts of energy and stress hormones, our body depletes its resources and usually post-traumatic stress disorder develops (Howard & Crandall, 2007).
Trauma can cause the brain to go into alert mode so extensively that it causes damage to the brain cells. When stress hormones are repeatedly released in high doses, our brain reacts and wears itself out. In cases of prolonged trauma in childhood, an integrated personality is often not formed (Howard & Crandall, 2007).
Secondly, trauma passes itself down through generations. Many who have experienced abuse or trauma as a child are often determined to raise their children better and shield them from danger. That is a noble and great goal. However, it’s also a bit naïve if you don’t get help from others to treat your own trauma first.
Recent research has shown that trauma effects can actually be passed down to our children biologically. The short is this: trauma messes up the production of our short RNA molecules. When that happens, our normal cellular processes get messed up too, and when this occurs, our emotions and reactions do not necessarily work as they should. Essentially, these abnormal short RNA molecules can then be transmitted to our offspring for up to three generations! If you’d like an additional, perhaps more sophisticated and scientific, explanation of this dynamic, visit here: (ETH Zurich, 2014).
Finally, trauma impairs interpersonal relationships. As already noted, trauma usually makes people interact with the world more fearfully because of damaged brain areas. When it comes to relationships, those who have experienced trauma often are distrustful of others and can struggle to express emotional needs for fear of being hurt.
Experiencing trauma is serious. Yes, sometimes you can see some growth and healing on your own without anyone’s help. But often, the symptoms the trauma leaves with someone last a long time and can deeply impair one’s functioning and finances.
But here’s the good news: much research and study has been done on effective treatment strategies for trauma. In my therapeutic work, I personally use two modalities to treat trauma: Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and Somatic Experiencing. EMDR has been highly recommended by the American Psychiatric Association, the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a preferred treatment for trauma.
Somatic Experiencing helps alleviate the physical symptoms that occur as a result of trauma. I find that employing both methods has heeded great results with my clients in alleviating physical and psychological symptoms.
If you are a trauma survivor, you can get help for your negative symptoms. Solid research has shown that professional trauma therapy can reverse the effects of trauma and help you engage life more optimally. Also by investing in professional therapy, you are investing in a service that will help you save money that could possibly be lost in the future due to lessened productivity, medical concerns, or harmful effects that can be passed onto your family.
ETH Zurich. (2014). Hereditary trauma: Inheritance of traumas and how they may be mediated. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/04/140413135953.htm.
Howard, S. & Crandall, M. (2007). Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: What happens in the brain? Washington Academy of Sciences. Retrieved from http://www.washacadsci.org/Journal/Journalarticles/V.93-3-Post%20Traumatic%20Stress%20Disorder.%20Sethanne%20Howard%20and%20Mark%20Crandalll.pdf.
About Zach Rawlings
Zach Rawlings holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and is a Licensed Professional Counselor who primarily works with survivors of trauma and abuse in his private practice. Many who see Zach for therapy are experiencing trauma symptoms such as anxiety, excessive fear, or are simply struggling to connect meaningfully with those in their lives. Learn more.
Connect with Zach at ZachRawlings.com
Image Courtesy of: http://www.psy.ox.ac.uk/research/oxford-centre-for-anxiety-disorders-and-trauma/anxiety-disorders/post-traumatic-stress-disorder