When someone experiences a traumatic event, it can be hard to process and make sense of what happened. There are a variety of different ways that people respond to trauma, and no two people will react in exactly the same way. However, there are some common responses that many people experience.
The five most common trauma responses are: denial, numbing, blame, self-blame, and isolation. Denial is a defense mechanism that allows people to cope with the overwhelming nature of trauma by pretending it didn’t happen or downplaying its significance. Numbing is another way of coping with trauma; by numbing oneself emotionally, one can avoid feeling the pain and anguish associated with the event. Blame is often directed outward after a traumatic event; survivors may blame other people or circumstances for what happened. Self-blame is another common response to trauma; survivors may feel like they could have done something to prevent the event from happening or that they somehow deserve what happened to them. Isolation is another form of protection from further hurt; by withdrawing from others and cutting off emotional connections, survivors can minimize their exposure to further pain.
While these five responses are common among survivors of trauma, it’s important to remember that everyone responds differently.
A life threatening event. This includes a perceived-to-be life threatening event
When an individual experiences a life threatening event, they may experience one or more of the following trauma responses:
1. Dissociation: This is when an individual disconnects from their body and surroundings. They may feel like they are outside of their body looking in, or they may completely lose touch with reality. This can be a short-term response to trauma or it can last for long periods of time.
2. Numbing: This is when an individual numbs themselves emotionally and/or physically in order to cope with the trauma. They may dissociate from their emotions, become emotionally flat, numbed to physical sensations, or use substances to numb themselves.
3. Arousal: This is when an individual experiences increased levels of anxiety, arousal, and hyper vigilance following a traumatic event. They may have difficulty sleeping, concentrating, or feel on edge all the time. Their fight-or-flight response may be triggered easily and they may startle easily.
4. Reexperiencing: This is when an individual relives the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts, and/or triggers in the environment that remind them of the trauma. They may feel like they are going through the event again which can be very distressing.
5. Avoidance: This is when an individual avoids anything that reminds them of the trauma including people, places, things, conversations, and activities. They may also avoid talking about the event or may try to numb themselves emotionally in order to avoid feeling the pain of the trauma.
Internal reminders of a traumatic event. These signs of trauma typically present as nightmares or flashbacks
It is not unusual for people who have experienced a traumatic event to have nightmares or flashbacks. These can be upsetting and may make it difficult to cope with everyday life. However, there are some things that can be done to help manage these symptoms.
If you experience nightmares or flashbacks, it is important to tell someone who can support you. This might be a friend, family member, therapist, or doctor. Telling someone about what you are experiencing can help you feel less alone and may help you process the trauma.
There are also some practical things that can be done to reduce the impact of nightmares or flashbacks. For example, it may help to keep a journal in which you record your dreams or memories of the event. This can provide a way of venting any feelings that come up and may help prevent them from becoming overwhelming. Alternatively, relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation may also be helpful in managing symptoms.
If nightmares or flashbacks are proving particularly distressing or interfering with daily life, it is important to seek professional help. A therapist will be able to provide support and guidance in dealing with these symptoms and helping to address any underlying trauma.
Avoidance of external reminders
Trauma responses are natural and normal reactions to an event that has overwhelmed a person’s ability to cope. They are a way of the mind and body trying to protect themselves from further harm. The five main types of trauma responses are:
1. Avoidance of external reminders: This is a common response in which the person tries to avoid anything that might remind them of the traumatic event. This can be through avoiding places, people, objects or thoughts associated with the trauma. It can also involve numbing oneself emotionally by withdrawing from friends and activities that were once enjoyed.
2. Intrusive thoughts and flashbacks: In this response, the person experiences intrusive thoughts about the trauma which can lead to flashbacks where they relive aspects of the event. These can be very distressing and may cause them to feel as though they are going crazy.
3. Negative changes in thinking and mood: After experiencing a traumatic event, it is common for a person’s thinking patterns and mood to change significantly. They may become more suspicious, irritable, anxious or depressed. They may also have difficulty concentrating or sleeping properly.
4. Changes in physical reactions: It is not uncommon for someone who has experienced trauma to have physical reactions such as feeling constantly on edge, being easily startled or developing aches and pains with no obvious physical cause. These physical reactions are often a result of the ‘fight-or-flight’ response being constantly activated in their bodies due to stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol.
5. Dissociation: This is when someone feels disconnected from their own body or reality itself as a means of coping with overwhelming emotions related to the trauma. Dissociation can manifest itself in different ways such as feeling out-of-body experiences, de personalisation (feeling like you are observing yourself from outside your body) or de realisation (feeling like the world around you is not real).
Altered anxiety state
Altered anxiety states are a common response to trauma. Symptoms can include feeling on edge, increased worry or fearfulness, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. These changes can make it hard to go about your daily activities and may impact your ability to work or go to school. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to seek professional help so that you can begin the process of healing.
Changes in mood or thinking
The mind is a powerful tool that can help us to cope with difficult situations. However, when we experience a traumatic event, our mind can also work against us. We may start to see the world in a different, more negative way. Our thinking may become more jumbled and confused. We may find it hard to concentrate or make decisions. These changes in mood and thinking are natural responses to trauma and can be extremely distressing.
It’s important to remember that these changes are usually temporary and will eventually start to improve as we begin to heal from the trauma. There are things you can do to help yourself through this process, such as seeking professional support, talking about your experiences with friends or family, or practicing relaxation techniques.