Michelle Barsky, LMHC
How Trauma Changes Us
Trauma is, unfortunately, all too common in our society.
The statistics regarding the number of individuals who have experienced trauma in their lives is pretty scary. Physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse is rampant and leaves lasting impacts on people that can change the trajectory of their lives.
For some, trauma results in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which has symptoms that include increased startle response, avoidance of places or situations that trigger painful memories, flashbacks, nightmares, depression, and more.
For people experiencing this type of anxiety, each time they are triggered feels as though they are actually re-living the trauma in the present and they re-experience the sensations they felt when the trauma occurred. These individuals are prone to substance abuse and experience a sort of disassociation from the present world - they have difficulty relating to their bodies as well as to their own emotions.
Depending on the type of trauma, they may have trouble trusting others and have a hard time getting close to people as they feel they are constantly being attacked and must be on the defensive. They live in the past - reliving their trauma over and over again.
A lot of research has been done surrounding trauma - how trauma impacts survivors and how it can be treated best. What has been found is that trauma actually changes the brain wiring and chemical reactions in the brain of individuals who have experienced it. Those who have experienced trauma have actually become a new person after emerging from their traumatic experience, as their brain now assesses and perceives situations differently than it did before experiencing the trauma.
Research has also shown that cognitive therapies (those that challenge irrational beliefs) don't work well for trauma survivors, as rational thinking is involved with a part of the brain that has been negatively impacted by the trauma.
Instead, therapy that is most beneficial centers around getting a person re-connected to the present moment and getting in touch with the body. Mindfulness - meditation, breathing exercises, taking time to notice where in the body we experience certain emotions (i.e. we might experience sadness by feeling "pain" in our hearts) are helpful in connecting trauma survivors to the present.
Dance, rhythmic music, and purposeful movement (i.e. Tai Chi) allow a person to get in touch with their body and decrease disassociation. In addition, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a technique that involves recalling traumatic experiences while moving eyes from left to right, has been shown to be highly effective. This possibly odd-sounding approach allows individuals to process traumatic memories in a way that leaves them feeling they have "resolved" their trauma and can leave it in the past.
Experiencing trauma can be a complex, highly-impactful experience that often requires therapeutic intervention to be fully resolved. For more information about trauma-resolution methods, try the book "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel Van der Kolk, MD.
Do you suspect you are struggling with the pain of unhealed trauma? Therapy can help. Reach out to me today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.
For more information on trauma therapy, click here.