We all have a tendency to minimize traumatic events. We tell ourselves, “That’s in the past. I should be over that by now.” It’s certainly a healthy response to want to let go and move on. But trauma doesn’t typically resolve on its own, and eventually our bodies and minds will let us know when something needs to be addressed.
“No one wants to say ‘I’ve been traumatized,’” says Robbie Bogard, Director of Integrative and Group Services at Yellowbrick. “You may not define your symptoms as trauma-related. You just know something is wrong.”
Ironically, one of the reasons trauma becomes minimized is that there is such a broad variety of experiences that qualify as traumatic. Serious physical injury is one obvious cause of trauma, but any event that leaves you feeling frightened, alone and interferes with your life going forward can be considered traumatic. It can be the result of a powerful one-time event, or come from a series of unpleasant experiences that leads to long-term problems, such as growing up with an alcoholic parent, being shamed about being overweight, being date raped or being in an abusive relationship, or many other scenarios.
Traumatic experiences overwhelm the mind and body’s ability to integrate the experience into memory and store it as you would other life experiences. For that reason, it keeps showing up in many ways, including those described below.
So how do you know if you are suffering from something you’ve told yourself was “no big deal”?
Signs You’ve Experienced Trauma
- You feel overwhelmed
Did something happen unexpectedly? Were you unprepared for it? Did you feel helpless to prevent it? Do you feel you can’t talk to anyone about it because no one else can understand? Feeling that you have no control over your life or no one to turn to is a sign of trauma.
- You have flashbacks
Are you being triggered by certain sights, sounds, or smells that remind you of the incident? Is your life being interrupted by intrusive symptoms, whether in the form of upsetting images, memories, nightmares, crying, or sudden anger? Any strong emotional or physical reaction that doesn’t seem to be connected to the present situation can be the result of a buried trauma.
- You often “space out”
Feeling numb or having flat emotions is a common result of trauma. Maybe you have difficulty staying present, or find yourself disconnecting from others. This desire to isolate or zone out could mean that you haven’t processed a painful memory.
- You overreact or respond inappropriately
Do you startle easily? Does the slightest stress send you into panic mode? Bogard calls this a “hyper-aroused response” and says it’s another sign that you may be minimizing a trauma.
- You feel ashamed
Do you sometimes feel that you can’t do anything right? Do you find yourself thinking, “If only I hadn’t done that, this never would have happened”? One of the most common types of trauma is interpersonal trauma, which includes physical or sexual abuse, or bullying. Shame plays a big part in this kind of trauma, as well as a tendency to blame yourself.
These five signs of trauma can be your mind know you have important emotions that need to be processed. If you’ve been denying or ignoring any of them, know that there are steps you can take to begin to truly move past trauma.
Steps to Recover From Trauma
- Seek out someone who is experienced in helping others.
- Tell a trusted friend.
- Join a group for survivors of trauma.
Bogard says that the goal is to be supported as you connect your feelings to your memories. Integrating the two will allow you to release self-blame, sadness, anger, and fear. You’ll minimize not the trauma itself, but the ability it has to affect your life.