Sometimes the unexpected happens. One moment we are just living our lives and the next moment an event occurs that changes it forever. The sudden loss of a loved one, surviving a life-threatening event, a natural disaster, a car accident, sexual assault, or some other tragedy can cause trauma that lingers long after the event has occurred. This trauma can cause you to feel unsafe in the world in general – an overarching fear that you may carry with you as you walk through life. Sometimes, even though you may want to try to forget about the traumatic event, nightmares and flashbacks (possible signs of PTSD) can pull you back in.
Trauma can come in varying degrees and change your behaviors and choices. Sometimes, you may not even feel the trauma because your symptoms are so subtle. Trauma has many faces and it may be helpful to know what the different types of trauma look like and how they can manifest emotionally. Without treatment, trauma symptoms don’t often just go away on their own. In fact, left untreated, they can even sometimes magnify as time goes on.
Here are a number of ways that trauma can make an appearance in your life.
Acute trauma can come from a single event like an accident, assault, or natural disaster. This event can threaten your personal security and stay in the back of your mind for a long time. As a result, you might feel increased anxiety at every sight or sound that reminds you of the initial trauma and brings you right back to that moment.
This type of trauma can cause you to shut down in some way, making it hard to trust people. You may not even be aware of forming a thick skin to prevent yourself from getting hurt again. Even though new people are not causing you any harm, you may still be afraid to let them in.
Unlike acute trauma, chronic trauma of a similar origin occurs over a longer period of time. It could be months or even years. You could have faced a series of abuse throughout your life or exposure to extreme situations like war.
Chronic trauma symptoms can appear years after the traumatic events have occurred because the long-time exposure has made you more tolerant to these symptoms. Out of nowhere, you could exhibit extreme outbursts, flashbacks, headaches, and body aches.
While chronic trauma can be from multiple identical events that occurred over a period of time, complex trauma is trauma that results from various different situations. You could undergo being trapped when you have endured childhood abuse in the past and then domestic violence later as you get older.
Multiple exposures to trauma can have a lasting impact on your mind. Everyday activities like going to work, your relationships, and your health can take a backseat when traumatic thoughts get in the way.
Not all trauma can hit you with such intensity. An incident that initially seems minor may not bring you trauma symptoms at the moment but can manifest later on. At the time that these stand-alone events may have occurred, it may have felt easy to move on from them since you left unscathed. It is may not be until a string of these incidences happens again that your trauma makes an appearance.
For example, someone in your childhood could have called you “ugly” in the playground. You may think that this event is no big deal because you were a little kid when this happened and little kids say mean things. However, this trauma actually did have an effect on you if you decided not to pursue other relationships in fear others will not find you attractive.
While the obvious symptoms of trauma are easy to see like fear or having nightmares when you sleep, there are people who do not show any emotion. Emotional numbness is when you shut down as a result of trauma and you may even appear unaffected by trauma to other people. Shutting down and becoming numb doesn’t mean that you are not impacted by the trauma. Becoming numb as a result of trauma is often a defense mechanism that gets deployed to help cope with the trauma. And while becoming numb may help you cope with the trauma for a short while, it is not a long-lasting coping mechanism and it doesn’t lead to true healing in the long run.