The level of produced traumatic effect depends on age, coping skills, resilience, beliefs, previous traumas and life experiences, life stressors around the time of the event, suddenness of the event and help available at the time of the event. When the trauma is accessible to the consciousness, the individual is aware that current symptoms might be connected to the event. Sometimes, the mind copes with the trauma by making it less accessible, the individual might not be aware that current life difficulties have anything to do with what happened, might not remember the trauma, deny or disregard it as important.
In both cases, trauma produces physiological changes, including recalibration of the brain’s alarm system, an increase in stress hormone activity, and alterations in the system that filters relevant information from the irrelevant. The individual may become hypervigilant, emotionally dysregulated, develop panic attacks, have persistent and intrusive memories or flashbacks, uncontrollable body movements, avoidance, risky behaviours, feeling of being out of one’s body, physical symptoms of stress and anxiety, concentration difficulties, memory lapses, relationship difficulties and difficulties learning from the experiences.
In addition to the physical changes, trauma produces deep emotional and existential effects on the individual. Trauma with its suddenness and unpredictability, destroys previously held meanings, expectations and hopes of how the world and others operate. It renders the sufferer helpless and confused. It may produce a feeling of one part of the self forever destroyed, contaminated or spoiled with a resulting shame about the event, or guilt at not acting in a different way. The individual may turn against the self and blame the self for how terrified, dependent, excited or helpless they felt.
Trauma includes physical (being hit, pushed, slapped, held against one’s will), sexual (involvement in sexual activity against one’s will or under false pretences) , financial (extortion) and emotional abuse (neglect, bullying, prolonged criticism), modern slavery (forced labour or marriage, debt bondage, trafficking, servitude) developmental trauma (occurring before the age of three), domestic abuse (can include physical, emotional and sexual abuse), child abuse, complex physical experiences (giving birth, disability or acquiring life-threatening illness), witnessing/participating/being a subject to criminal activity, mass disaster, accident, religious sect activities or an act of terrorism. Events such as divorce, separation, sudden death of a relative, risky behaviour, rejection, infidelity are also considered traumatic.
Trauma has an effect of deactivating the left hemisphere, responsible for linguistic, sequential and analytical tasks. This means that the individual may struggle to remember their experience verbally, or put it into words, may struggle to remember the sequence of events and reflect on the meaning and responsibility of everyone involved. Both, cognitive behavioural psychotherapy and psychoanalytic psychotherapy helps to activate the left hemisphere through restoring, explaining and putting the experiences into order in a safe controlled environment. Your therapist is highly skilled in helping you to manage your feelings as you begin to process your trauma. In cognitive behavioural psychotherapy you will be working on examining your information processing and behaviour patterns, learning calming strategies, emotional regulation as well as learning about the biology of trauma. In psychoanalytic psychotherapy you may take as much time as you need to feel comfortable enough to reflect on and begin to change the patterns in your life in connection to the trauma, work on reconnecting with your body, or create new meanings as a gentle step towards healing. You may not want to talk about the trauma itself, and that is absolutely fine.