Most people will experience one or more potentially traumatic events throughout their lives. In fact, trauma can occur at almost any point during our lifespan, and the human response to trauma can be quite complex. The specific impacts a person experiences due to trauma can depend on a variety of factors. Likewise, there are many pathways to healing as survivors explore their potential for growth and recovery.
Trauma is an experience that overwhelms our capacity to cope. Events that are inescapable, cause us to feel helpless, or involve a lack of control can be experienced as traumatic. Trauma may involve exposure to injury and/or threat that is physical, emotional/psychological, or sexual in nature. Some individuals who experience trauma may be diagnosed with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). (Treating Trauma Master Series, 2017).
A person may experience trauma in any of the following ways:
- Directly experiencing the event
- Witnessing the event
- Learning that a loved one experienced a trauma
- Being exposed to details about traumatic events
Major types of trauma can include:
- Child abuse/neglect
- Interpersonal violence
- Psychological/Emotional abuse
- Sexual assault
- Physical assault
- Motor vehicle accidents
- Life-threatening medical conditions
- Natural disasters
Some people may experience a single event, while others may experience repeated, prolonged, or cumulative traumas.
(Briere & Scott, 2015)
Trauma can impact survivors’ thinking patterns, memory, mood, self-esteem, relationships, and daily functioning. Physical illnesses and medical conditions may also result from exposure to trauma. Some individuals may find themselves using substances in an attempt to cope, which may lead to addiction and/or additional traumas. Other symptoms may include:
Unwanted thoughts or distressing memories may intrude on your daily experiences. People may also have distressing dreams or nightmares which may or may not be directly related to the trauma they experienced. Intrusion symptoms can also include feeling as though the trauma is happening again (i.e., flashbacks), which can be quite distressing physically and emotionally. Some survivors experience periods of “zoning out,” or losing time (i.e., dissociation).
It is common for survivors to want to avoid thoughts, feelings, or reminders (e.g., people, places, objects, situations) of the traumatic event(s). Over time, avoidant behaviour can generalize to situations that are not directly related to the trauma.
Trauma survivors may struggle with negative thoughts about themselves, others, and the world. Common thoughts may include:
- “This was my fault.”
- “There’s something wrong with me.”
- “I am bad.”
- “People can’t be trusted.”
- “The world is dangerous.”
Survivors often report feelings of fear, anger, guilt, shame, or numbness and at times have difficulty experiencing positive emotions. Trauma can lead to difficulties connecting with others and participating in important activities.
Survivors may frequently feel “on edge,” “on guard,” or “at risk.” This can lead to safety-related fears, startling easily and being overly aware of their surroundings (hypervigilance). Survivors may describe irritability, angry outbursts, and self-destructive behaviour. Problems with concentration and sleep disturbance are also common.
The above symptoms can impact a person’s ability to regulate emotions, engage in healthy relationships, and function well at home, at work/school, or in social situations (DSM-5, 2013).
Following trauma, survivors may choose to seek individual or group services. During this process, individuals can learn about their trauma impacts and ways of coping with symptoms. Some individuals may choose to connect with other survivors and/or process their trauma-related experiences as part of their recovery.
Options for help may include public, private, community, or peer-led services:
Victim services: https://www.gov.nl.ca/victimservices/
Eastern Health Mental Health and Addictions Program
Adult Central Intake 709 – 752 – 8888
Doorways (walk-in counselling clinic) 709 – 752 – 4903
BLDG. 532, Roosevelt Avenue, St. John’s
St. John’s Status of Women Council (St. John’s Women’s Centre, Safe Harbour Outreach Program, Marguerite’s Place)
170 Cashin Avenue, St. John’s
Phone: 709 – 753 – 0220; Text: 709 – 770 – 4312
Employee Assistance/Employee And Family Assistance Programs (EAP/EFAP)
70 The Boulevard (709-753-2560) or 878 Topsail Road (709-753-1138)
International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation
Veterans Affairs Canada (Counselling Services)
Helpguide.org (PTSD & Trauma)
App: PTSD Coach Canada (Veterans Affairs Canada)
Trauma not only impacts the person who experienced the event(s), but can also take a toll on significant relationships. The following link provides some helpful tips for supporting a loved one who has experienced trauma:
Helpguide.org (Helping Someone with PTSD)