Trauma is a serious injury or shock to the mind, body, or spirit caused by an external source which feels life threatening. It can be a one- time event or ongoing smaller repeated threats to emotional or physical safety such as:
Near Death Experience
Loss of health
Being hit by a parent
Growing up with an Alcoholic/addict
Child of Emotionally Disturbed Parent
Observing a parent or sibling being abused
Seeing someone else get hurt
Growing up with an out of control parent
Therapy can help you deal with all of the above kinds of trauma that cause:
|Panic AttacksAcute AnxietyAvoidance Lack of Confidence||NightmaresFear Of Being AlonePTSD
Too Scared to Move: When Trauma Paralyzes
Dr. Laurel A. Sills, Licensed Psychologist (October 15, 2007)
Scared stiff…can’t think… holding your breath without realizing it. You become aware you cannot breathe. Your heart’s pounding…muscles tense…your palms are sweaty. You’re frozen by fear–immobilized by something you can’t even define. Easily overwhelmed by the smallest demands or upset by the slightest things. Unable to make requests or set firm limits. You often feel paralyzed. You think, “It will always be like this;” unable to feel strong and independent like you deserve. Darkness petrifies you. Small spaces make you panic. You cannot stand being alone. Sudden movements and certain places make you jump. Maybe you hate being touched, despise your body or feel dirty. You always sit with your back to the wall; vigilant of potential harm. You dread intimacy. You fear night. Your walls are high. To protect yourself, you hide from others. You are an adult, but you feel like a kid; feeling “stupid,” “foolish,” or “childish” or “ashamed.” Secretly clinging to few you trust, you hide behind your façade of independence. Truly, you feel alone. This is the life you think you deserve, and you dare not speak of it due to shame.
This is typical of a person who was traumatized sexually, physically, or emotionally, in a big traumatic event or a series of ongoing emotionally difficult traumatizing times. When we are hurt, especially as children, we encode our painful trauma at a very deep brain-based, physiological level. Our bodies go into a fear response where higher levels of logic shut down and we become helpless, afraid, and unable to think of new ways of coping to events that have some remote familiarity to situations of past traumatic events. Regardless of trivialness of today’s daily demands, people with trauma tend to get stuck and unable to use logic when current events unconsciously or consciously reminds them of some aspect of their traumatic past. Traumatized folks have great difficulty focusing, being emotionally present with others, and are often unaware of sensations in their bodies. They often can’t verbally express what they’re feeling. They struggle to set limits, moderate their emotional reactions, or verbalize what is going on for them to others.
These reactions are part of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. One need not be in a car accident, a war-zone, a hold-up, a hurricane or be tortured physically, sexually, or emotionally to have this disorder. Any child can have these symptoms of physiological overreacting if they experienced a parent raging at them, fighting in front of them, scaring them while drunk, abusing them by violating boundaries once or many times, as well as by being humiliated. Adults can develop this if they experienced traumatic loss or assault, too.
Daily functioning is often a challenge. A woman who was sexually abused will struggle to want intimacy as well as not want to be examined by a physician. Maybe standing in an elevator will set off a man’s panic reaction. Entering a tanning booth may feel claustrophobic and terrifying. There is a sense of helplessness and loss of control over one’s life. Even making dinner and organizing one’s home can become overwhelming. There is difficulty setting limits due to not recognizing one can. Despite an awareness of discomfort, the person cannot define that feeling. Thus, no limit is set upon behavior that violates their rights, space or privacy. While many trauma survivors shut down, some protect themselves by aggressively reacting to or a fighting about every perceived slight, violation of rights, put down, demand, or request, and regularly alienate others.
The aftermath of a traumatic childhood or traumatic event can seem enormous and unmanageable. Yet, there definitely is a way to resolve it and ultimately have healthy boundaries and relationships. Pending the frequency, duration, degree of abuse, and level of reactivity and awareness, the time in therapy for each person will vary. Typically, the earlier in life and more ongoing the abuse, the longer therapy will take.
Talking therapy to identify the triggers, to desensitize the trauma is one part of helping a person get over this problem. Unfortunately, the physiological reactions are so deep and automatic, that scary over-arousal can feel traumatic just from discussing the memories in therapy. Without recognition and modulation of this by the therapist, the client can become too frightened to tolerate therapy. In addition to the talking therapy, medications can help lesson symptoms of fight or flight which run on overdrive for “protection.” This combination is still not enough to thoroughly treat the problem.
Relaxation training, breathing techniques, self-awareness and self-regulation must be included when desensitizing traumas and their resulting false negative beliefs. The best therapy teaches clients to become aware of their bodily sensations as they occur and label them. Next, clients learn to verbalize feelings and thoughts about their sensations and recognize what triggered them. Clients decide if their response is justified within the context of today’s reality to separate their past from today’s non-threatening events and regulate their emotions. With this help, you can make lasting positive changes and have a happier future. Healing takes dedication, courage and is often difficult. The benefits of freedom, self-control and happiness you will receive as a result of completing therapy far supersede any struggle and difficulty you will face. It is invaluably worth it!
This article was written by Dr. Laurel A. Sills, Licensed Psychologist in W. Bloomfield, MI. Dr. Sills works with adults and couples of all color, orientation and beliefs and provides short-term therapy with lasting results. For more information about this article on trauma and PTSD, please feel free to call Dr. Sills.