Wouldn’t it be grand if we never had to worry about harboring the aftereffects of things that were already difficult to live through the first time? It’s one of those things about life—one of those things that feel out of our grasp. Something hope won’t help us resolve, that’s trauma.
Lasting unpleasant feelings or aftershock from painful events seems to be part of being human. Maybe, we don’t need to hold onto the tough stuff. It’s not about ignoring, compartmentalizing, or acting as though things never happen. Instead, it could be all in the way we process.
How Psychological Trauma Affects Us
Psychological trauma is the result of mental, emotional, and sometimes physical distress. It’s what enables the visceral feelings that are associated with past events long after they happen.
The Three Types of Trauma
There are three different ways to look at trauma.
Acute: This occurs from a single traumatic event that the psyche didn’t process correctly.
Chronic: Comes following repetitive trauma that continues over an extended period.
Complex: Present in children and those with exposure to multiple sources of trauma that affect early development, hence impacting their processing going forward.
Understanding the Effects
Harboring trauma may be conscious. Though, in most cases, it happens unconsciously, causing havoc in the background.
How trauma affects each person internally and externally varies, some appear to be free of it from the outside, fighting intense internal battles. Others carry it all on their exterior. However potent and varied, there are still some staple effects of trauma.
Trauma affects the body, particularly the nervous system. This is the physiological byproduct of trauma. It starts with the event(s) that occur and trickles down into the central and autonomic nervous system. These systems regulate everything from digestion, sleep, and the function of the immune system.
Symptoms of Nervous System Infiltration
So, what does it look like when these various systems experience the ripples of trauma? We can break it down into six stages: freeze, fight/flight, fright, flag, faint.
Freeze: The initial onset of trauma. Shock, denial, and preliminary choices of processing occur. Pupils may dilate, blood pressure rises, and other symptoms of stress.
Fight or Flight: The choice of fight or flight occurs at this stage. An individual faces the potential of undergoing brute force of pain or fleeing to what they perceive as safe. Things like increased blood flow, heavy breathing, and digestive irregularity may occur.
Fright: The parasympathetic and sympathetic systems undergo tension and clash causing feelings of panic, dizziness, nausea, indigestion, and more.
Flag: Breakdown of the parasympathetic system occurs. Processing or lack thereof causes trauma to be either worked through or stored. Any adverse effects may occur at this point in pertinence with the associated systems and their diverse impact on the body. The senses and operations of the body may become impaired.
Faint: The occurrence of the full impact that comes as a result of unresolved or extreme trauma. Mental and behavioral disorders such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress may occur. Natural reactions may cause the sufferer to go into survival mode.
The Way of Processing
The initiative to manage trauma response involves the process of developing a systematic regulation of emotions. Informally, this can be any method that a person uses to cope or regulate their emotions and the effects of them. Usually, this follows initial or ongoing trauma.
The approach to working through trauma is often in managing symptoms, as the source has already occurred. Often, this is where therapies and mental health professionals come in.
Let’s consider the formation of memory that correlates with trauma response. Research has emerged that tells us that it is possible to influence your response by the way your memories are encoded. What this means is that you can minimize the impact of trauma when it occurs by focusing on alternate, neutral, or even positive aspects of what occurs.
It’s referred to as “internal emotional distraction.” Though, it’s not exactly a distraction that involves putting things to the side and pretending they don’t exist. It’s more of a shift in focus that allows for easier processing.
Internal Emotional Distraction, Metaphorically
It’s similar to shielding yourself from rain. It could be pouring outside (trauma), and there isn’t anything you can do about that. Walking outside would surely result in becoming drenched if you did so freely. You would then, hypothetically, need to deal with the discomfort of being wet.
You might dry off later and be fine, or you might deal with the aftermath of getting sick. However, if you’ve got an umbrella (internal emotional distraction), you can walk out into the exact same rainstorm, not get drenched—perhaps only wet at the feet, or a drop here and there. You might have to change your shoes or clothes, but you’re still better off with that umbrella than without.
Tapping into the ability to use this principle in your own life in relation to trauma is not an easy task. In fact, it would require a certain level of consciousness as the trauma occurs, as opposed to after. This is where things like learning to self-center, meditate, and understanding your triggers, come to your assistance.