The Impact of Trauma on Your Mental Health
A little over half of all U.S. adults will go through a major, traumatic event at some point in their lives. These events are deeply disturbing or distressing.
As a result, they strain your normal ability to cope and maintain a sense of wellness. Some of the impact of a traumatic event may be physical. It is also common to experience an emotional or psychological impact.
In most cases, exposure to trauma only has short-term effects. However, for a significant number of people, the impact continues to linger instead of resolving.
Lingering trauma can lead to serious problems that include some form of psychological damage. It is important to know how you may be affected.
But before taking this step, it is also important to answer a basic question: Exactly what is emotional trauma?
Emotional Trauma Definition
What causes emotional trauma? Traumatic events. Such events come in a range of shapes and forms. Some traumatic experience examples tend to be isolated rather than ongoing. That includes such things as:
- Hurricanes and other natural disasters
- Sexual or physical assaults
- The death of a loved one
- Witnessing severe violence toward others
- Severe physical injuries
However, other events may recur repeatedly or remain a constant in everyday life. Common examples of traumatic events in this category include:
- Long-term physical, sexual or emotional abuse
- Living in a war zone
- Growing up in an area affected by gang violence
Any of these events can challenge your mind’s normal coping mechanisms. When this happens, you have a traumatic emotional reaction.
What Is the Difference Between Emotional and Psychological Trauma?
You may hear traumatic mental reactions referred to as emotional trauma. You may also hear them referred to as psychological trauma.
Is there a difference between the two? Not typically. Most experts use the emotional trauma definition and the psychological trauma definition interchangeably.
Both definitions highlight mental trauma responses rather than physical responses.
What Is Childhood Emotional Trauma?
When asking, “what is emotional trauma,” the time of life in which traumatic events happen is significant.
Some people experience such events as adults. However, in many cases, exposure may date all the way back to childhood.
By official definition, the term childhood trauma includes any exposure that occurs before you turn 18. Roughly one-quarter of all U.S. children have had experiences that meet this definition.
Childhood trauma is important to note because of its tendency to have lingering consequences. Just a small percentage of adults exposed to trauma will develop diagnosable mental health issues.
In stark contrast, about 50% of all exposed children will develop symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Symptoms of Emotional Trauma
Psychological trauma symptoms fall into two general categories: acute responses and delayed responses.
What Is Acute Emotional Trauma?
Acute reactions are short-term and occur more or less immediately. Emotional trauma symptoms of this type include:
- Denial of what has happened to you
- A sense of numbness
- A feeling of detachment or disconnection from what has occurred
- A general feeling of being overwhelmed
- Feelings of helplessness
- An inability to orient your mind to your surroundings
- A sense of loss of control
The acute trauma response definition may also include changes in your normal way of thinking. Trauma symptoms of this nature include such things as:
- Lack of your normal ability to concentrate
- Racing or rapid thoughts
- Memory disruption
- A distorted sense of space and time
What Is Delayed Psychological Trauma?
Delayed reactions to stress do not occur immediately. Instead, they develop at least a while after your trauma exposure. Signs of trauma in this category include:
- An unstable mood
- Emotional detachment from things not directly related to trauma exposure
- Feelings of grief
- A depressed or “down” mood
- A hostile or irritable mood
- Fear that you will be exposed to trauma again
- A sense of being fragile or vulnerable
The delayed trauma definition includes changes in your usual thought processes such as:
- A preoccupation with what happened to you
- Unwanted memories of a traumatic event
- Problems making decisions or judgements
- A sense of reliving a past event
- Use of irrational or “magical” thinking in an attempt to avoid future trauma
Not everyone reacts to traumatic events in the same way. This means that not everyone will experience the same kinds of symptoms. In addition, the intensity of your reaction may differ from that of other people.
Are You Traumatized?
Following a traumatic event, you may find yourself asking, “Am I traumatized?” If you experience any of the acute symptoms of trauma, the answer may well be yes. The same holds true if you experience any delayed symptoms.
Should you seek help if you have been emotionally traumatized? There is no single answer to this question. Most traumatic reactions are natural and ultimately harmless.
However, in certain situations, they may point to a developing mental health problem. Knowing the difference between the two types of reactions will help you decide whether or not your need help.
When Is Emotional Trauma Harmful to Your Mental Health?
Common responses to trauma are typically short-term. In addition, these responses tend not to produce a lasting effect on your mental health.
Why? The human mind is resilient. Whenever possible, it seeks to overcome problems and return to normal.
Many of the acute reactions to trauma may play a protective mental health role. In effect, they give you time to process what happened and recover your well-being.
As you approach a firmer emotional footing, they fade away on their own.
However, lingering or delayed trauma can have a more serious, negative impact. Instead of fading away, your symptoms may stay the same, or even grow worse.
When this happens, the long-term effects of trauma may lead to a loss of your usual ability to function. If that loss is substantial, you may have a diagnosable mental health condition.
Damaging Examples of Emotional Trauma
PTSD is almost certainly the most well-known trauma-related illness. Between 7% and 8% of all Americans will develop this illness at one time or another. The rate among women is more than twice as high as the rate among men.
Emotional PTSD includes many of the delayed effects of trauma discussed earlier. These effects are divided into four categories, known as:
- Intrusive symptoms (e.g., flashbacks, unwanted memories, nightmares)
- Avoidant symptoms (e.g., staying away from reminders of a traumatic event)
- Changes in thought and mood (e.g., negative or distorted thoughts)
- Changes in normal reactions (e.g., suspicion of others, jitteriness)
Other Potential Problems
PTSD is only diagnosed when its symptoms appear at least 30 days after trauma exposure. If your problems begin before then, your doctor may diagnose you with acute stress disorder, or ASD.
There are also several other trauma-related conditions. Two of these conditions occur only in children:
- Disinhibited social engagement disorder
- Reactive attachment disorder
Other potential problems affecting children and/or adults include:
- Adjustment disorder
- Conditions that do not fit the definition of any other defined disorder
Treatment for Emotional Trauma
It is possible to recover from your trauma symptoms. The type of treatment required depends largely on the illness affecting you.
One example of a CBT-based therapy is prolonged exposure therapy. This treatment gradually exposes you to things that trigger your PTSD symptoms.
In this way, it helps you regain a sense of control. Another option is cognitive processing therapy, which helps you change damaging thought patterns.
Stress inoculation therapy helps you become more resistant to the effects of stress. In addition, group therapy is often beneficial.
Most of the medications used in PTSD treatment are antidepressants. You may also receive an anti-anxiety medication or sleep aid. Not everyone who receives medication goes through therapy. The reverse is also true.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is also used to treat ASD and adjustment disorder.
However, family therapy is the typical choice for treating children’s trauma-related illnesses. This therapy focuses on strengthening the parent-child bond.
What Is Emotional Trauma: Get More Information
Emotional trauma is a natural reaction to certain types of disturbing or jarring events. Most of the time, this reaction will not harm your mental health.
In fact, it may help protect you while you regain your sense of well-being. However, many people experience unresolved trauma.
A lingering trauma reaction may lead to the onset of PTSD or another trauma-related mental illness.
To learn more about the potential effects of lingering emotional trauma, contact Emerald Isle today. Our staff of experts will provide you with the information you need.
We also specialize in the diagnosis of PTSD and other related illnesses. If you think you may be affected, we can evaluate your condition.
In addition, Emerald Isle specializes in the treatment of trauma-related illnesses.
No matter how your illness affects you, our customized care plans will support your return to wellness. Call us today for details on how we can help you recover.