New and unusual behaviors, emotional outbursts and periods of extreme sadness can all indicate there is a problem
The American Psychological Association defines trauma as an emotional response to a terrible event such as a natural disaster or rape. Those who have been through a traumatic event can experience flashbacks and other symptoms of trauma long after the event has passed.
Getting the right kind of treatment for the aftereffects of trauma can help prevent additional problems like addiction. Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma in a loved one is the first step in getting her the help she needs.
Sources of Trauma
Trauma can be triggered by both physical and emotional distress caused by large-scale disasters as well as personal events. No matter the size or scope of the traumatic event, the results can be equally devastating for a traumatized individual.
Some examples of traumatic events include the following:
- Domestic violence
- Natural disasters
- Severe illness or injury
- Death of a loved one
- Witnessing an act of violence
If you or a loved one has experienced any of these events, watching for the signs of trauma is important. While many people who experience trauma are able to hide their symptoms for a while, eventually emotions build up and cause an extreme and debilitating reaction.
For others, symptoms may not develop until long after the actual event. The signs of trauma can also vary from person to person. New and unusual behaviors, emotional outbursts and periods of extreme sadness can all indicate there is a problem.
The Center for Early Child Mental Health Consultation lists these common signs of trauma in children:
- Eating disturbances
- Sleep problems
- Clinginess – separation anxiety
- Feeling helpless and passive
- Irritability – difficult to soothe
- Constricted mood and play
- Repetitive/post-traumatic play
- Fearfulness, easily startled
- Language delay
- Aggressive behavior
- Sexualized behavior
- Restless and hyperactive behavior
- Physical complaints such as headache and stomachache
- Reacting to trauma triggers
- Social problems and problems in relationships with peers
The symptoms of trauma in adults can be similar to those in children with a few notable differences. Adults often have trouble remembering the traumatic event (blocking the memory) and feel a strong sense of guilt over the trauma, even though they are not at fault. The National Institute of Mental Health lists the following additional symptoms for adults who have suffered a trauma:
- Flashbacks – reliving the trauma over and over
- Bad dreams/nightmares
- Frightening thoughts
- Avoiding places, events or objects that are reminders of the trauma
- Losing interest in enjoyable activities
- Feeling emotionally numb
If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, it is time to get help.
Dealing with Trauma
When a person struggles with the aftereffects of a traumatic event, recognizing there is a problem is the first step to healing. Talking about the traumatic event with trusted family members or friends can help you get the right perspective. For most people, just trying to work through the feelings and emotions of a trauma isn’t enough. The right treatment can help you learn to cope with what you are feeling and learn how to live life again.
There are many options when it comes to treatment for trauma. For some people, weekly sessions with a therapist can be the answer. For others, spending time in a treatment facility is necessary. When trauma is accompanied by an additional mental health diagnosis, like depression or anxiety, medication is often needed to help the healing process move forward. Whatever your situation, there are treatment options available to meet your unique needs.
When searching for a treatment program for trauma, the University of New Hampshire Counseling Center suggests looking for the following:
- Treatment that empowers – You must be in charge of your own healing in order to regain the control that was taken away because of the trauma.
- Validation – You need people who will listen to you and validate the importance of what has happened to you.
- Connection – Trauma can result in feelings of extreme loneliness. You need to connect with your treatment providers.
- Hope – Your treatment provider needs to offer you hope that you can and will get better.
When a person experiences trauma, the aftereffects of the event can be felt for a long time. Trauma that is not dealt with in appropriate ways can lead other mental health issues like depression and anxiety. The emotional wounds from trauma can also lead to addiction, as the person struggling tries to numb the feelings surrounding the event. Learning to cope with the feelings and emotions of the trauma is part of the healing process.