What does psychological trauma look like?
Traumatic events are any events that have a lasting painful effect on our psychology and emotional wellbeing. Some forms of trauma are well publicised in the media, such as war and natural disasters, accidents, and physical/sexual abuse. Traumatic experiences can also take place in our relationships – for example in our childhood attachments, within adult relationships, or even in a toxic workplace. These are just some examples, however, any past experience which continues to have a painful impact on your present mental and emotional health could be classified as a trauma.
Reactions to psychological trauma
Traumatic events can have a significant impact and can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Some of the common reactions to trauma are listed below, however, everyone’s experience is unique and your response to trauma may involve other painful experiences which are equally valid, though not listed on this page.
Physical reactions to trauma can include:
- Increased heart rate
- Anxiety, panic attacks and stress
- Excessive sweating
- Vomiting, nausea and dizziness
- Disturbed sleep and/or insomnia
Emotional and behavioural reactions to trauma can include:
- Losing touch with your daily routine
- Feeling guilt, anger, fear, sadness or grief
- An inability to stop thinking about what happened
- Finding it difficult to concentrate clearly or to remember details
- Avoiding any reminders of the traumatic event or avoidance in general
- A change in appetite by eating less or a lot more
Longer term emotional and behavioural reactions to trauma can include:
- Changes in your behaviour within your relationships
- Finding it difficult to function as you did before the trauma (in work and other domains)
- Difficulty regulating your emotions generally
- A sense of losing your identity or sense of self
- Feelings of emptiness or disconnection
Could my response to trauma be a mental health issue which requires treatment?
If you are experiencing significant distress following an experience of trauma we recommend getting in touch with a professional for psychological support. There are no rules regarding how long ago a trauma occurred and when to get help. Whether the trauma happened recently or some time ago (even in your childhood), psychological treatment can help you to manage and reduce symptoms and move forward with your life.
There are a number of mental health diagnoses associated with trauma including
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Complex PTSD or
- Complex Trauma.
Rather than self-diagnosing over the internet, we recommend you explore whether you meet criteria for a mental health diagnosis with a psychologist. At Cova Psychology, we assess for, diagnose, and treat reactions to psychological trauma, contact us here.
How to get help after a traumatic event
If you or a loved one has experienced a trauma in the past which is continuing to have an impact today, it may be highly beneficial to seek professional support. Avoidance is a common outcome of trauma, and many people avoid seeking help because they deny the trauma has had an impact. For example, if you had a rocky childhood, you may normalise it by saying, “all my friends had it hard in childhood as well, I don’t need help with this.”
We encourage you to avoid comparisons to others – if trauma is holding you back, it is never too late to seek support and tackle the issue with a psychologist.
Sessions with a psychologist can help you to:
- Understand and make sense of your emotional experience
- Reduce and improve your post-traumatic emotional and behavioural reactions
- Return to regular activities, daily routines and reach your long term goals
- Improve functioning in your daily life and within your relationships
- Improve your overall mental and emotional wellbeing and quality of life