Is trauma just a painful memory?

Have you or anyone you know ever been impacted by trauma? Would you recognise trauma and its effects? After all, isn’t it just something that happens to other people, like in war-torn countries, the soldiers and the innocent victims of war? Can you hear yourself declare… ‘Yes, it’s’ ‘those’ people’ who are impacted by trauma!’… ‘Whatever trauma is… not me… not I or the people I know.’ Really?


Is trauma the same as stress and anxiety?

Resisting a difficult event can lead to stress and anxiety. Left to fester, this can lead to panic attacks and even depression. Stress and anxiety dominate modern-day living and can negatively impact not only our mental and emotional well-being but also our physical health. Stress causes irritability, anger, loss of appetite, inability to sleep or disturbed sleep patterns, fatigue and digestive troubles.

Anxiety is somewhat different; in that it is experienced when there is persistent worry that doesn’t dissipate even in the absence of a stressful trigger. Stress and anxiety are mutually exclusive, whilst often intrinsically linked, as one often leads to trigger the other. 

Different people react differently to the same perceived stressful event. So, we know, it isn’t the distressing situation that diminishes our mental and emotional state, it’s how we respond. The same can be said for trauma. Stress and anxiety aren’t the same as trauma. Nevertheless, the person experiencing trauma can often feel the effects of stress and/or anxiety.

What actually is trauma?

Trauma is overwhelming and not always easy to spot because it’s individual by its very nature and this is intrinsically linked with our personal response. Factors play their part when a person experiences what could be perceived as trauma. The perceived threat is either persistent or isolated, and the severity of the threat also plays its part.

Other factors include things like:

  • the age of the person
  • their life history and innate coping abilities
  • the individual’s emotional maturity
  • what support system they have

What could be perceived as mildly disturbing to one person can be overwhelmingly traumatic for another. Trauma is an instinctual mental and/or emotional and/or physical response designed by nature, to protect the individual, in times of perceived threat to their survival. We feel something is traumatic when our perception of a distressing event is beyond our control.

Trauma is extremely stressful, and the ramifications can be vast. It isn’t just major catastrophic events (albeit, it can be), it is also something that leaves us feeling so overwhelmed that we struggle to cope at the time of the initial event and consequently leaves us with diminished coping capacity.

Trauma can be felt because of physical, mental or sexual abuse, bullying, harassment and neglect, the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job/career, the breakdown of a relationship, a serious accident, natural disasters, war and conflict. These are just a few of the typical incidents that can lead to a person feeling traumatised, from either experiencing first hand or witnessing the distressing event.

Experiencing or witnessing a distressing event in childhood can impact cognitive, emotional and behavioural development. Likewise, some children who experience a particularly upsetting, traumatic event will find it challenging to cope in the short-medium term but will spontaneously recover. As I pointed out earlier, trauma is deeply personal.

How does trauma impact?

Our immediate response is intrinsically coded in our biology. When faced with a threat to our existence, instinctively, fight or flight kicks into action.

Our autonomic nervous system (ANS) is made up of the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems. Our adrenal glands form part of our endocrine system, responsible for releasing and regulating hormones into the autonomic nervous system. Our ANS is responsible for subconscious, involuntary function control, such as breathing and our pulse, and is activated when the amygdala and the hypothalamus function in the brain signal the sympathetic nervous system to release the adrenaline hormone into the bloodstream. Adrenaline increases our heart rate and blood flow to enable the body to move quickly.

However, when the body needs to minimise the risk of detection during trauma (for example, from a predator), the parasympathetic nervous system is activated, enabling enhanced perception whilst the person feels frozen, and unable to move until the perceived threat has reduced and/or passed.

It’s important to note that the parasympathetic nervous system is also activated during normal times of calm. But, in heightened states of threat, our associated response is mirrored through this biological system.

In the weeks, months and years that follow a traumatic event, the unresolved trauma doesn’t just go away. Some people do find an innate way of coping. Again, it’s deeply personal. Often, the emotional response to trauma is suppressed, in an attempt to make the pain disappear. Others seek help to come to terms with and heal their experience.

Childhood trauma can lead to an increased risk in adulthood mental health, including anxiety and depression, difficulties in social settings and personal relationships. More complex presenting concerns can manifest as disassociation, the need to control, difficulties with memory and an inability to display empathy.

Physically, trauma often has a constricting effect on the body. You might find you clench your jaw, hold tension in your shoulders, or notice that your body feels tight as you unconsciously hold the tension physically by constricting your body - until, that is, you feel the physical ache. Over longer periods of time, this can lead to physical ailments. You might suffer bruxism (more commonly known as teeth grinding) or insomnia where you feel you have no control over an overactive mind that is determined to keep you awake and deprive you of all-important sleep. Trauma can present itself in many ways.

Suppressed trauma

A state of unawareness is often a coping strategy. It’s a way of suppressing our emotions because facing them is often a scary and upsetting prospect. To be unaware through suppressing a traumatic event(s), therefore, becomes a coping strategy.

How long can a person suppress their deep-rooted emotions?

Perceived trauma can and does impact and no matter how long a person attempts to suppress what happened as their only known way of coping, it will eventually come to the surface. Climbing its way from the subconscious to the conscious mind. 

How does the subconscious and conscious mind respond?

Everything we experience during our lifetime is held within our subconscious mind. The part of us that is responsible for keeping us alive. During our formative years, as we experience things for the first time, a blueprint is developed by the subconscious, as it acknowledges it was successful in keeping us alive during that event…whatever that event was.

The subconscious mind is not rational. That’s important to understand. It’s our conscious mind that is rational. When a blueprint has been created within the subconscious, this becomes the reference point for any subsequent experience, that even remotely reminds the subconscious mind of that initial event. Most of the time, it’s a miraculous, natural phenomenon that works incredibly well. Things work out, because that blueprint is running at a subconscious level… there in the background, where most of the time we are not even aware of it. We just know first and foremost we are still alive and breathing, and we think, feel and behave in a particular way in certain situations… and generally, it works.

Where there has been a traumatic experience, and certainly in our formative years, we respond to the distressing event through the limited understanding, knowledge and emotional underdevelopment of a child. The blueprint is, therefore, set within the subconscious with the limitations of our psychological understanding and limited emotional capabilities we held at that time, in childhood. That blueprint is logged within your subconscious as successfully having kept you alive. This is now the framework for response as you navigate your life.

And remember, the subconscious mind is not rational. It simply will instruct our conscious mind to think, feel and behave in accordance with our subconscious blueprint for keeping us alive. As we develop into maturity, we may be prone to anxiety or feelings of overwhelm, at what others perceive as everyday occurrences. That trauma blueprint at a subconscious level has been activated because of a trigger associated with the trauma experienced earlier in life. This can be debilitating. 

So, is trauma just a painful memory? The devastating impact of trauma can take control of our physical, mental and emotional states of being, all of which contribute to our memories. Reliving our trauma through our memories is painful because our emotional responses are held deep within. The key, through my extensive experience as a clinical hypnotherapist and expert yoga breathing teacher, is to take back control, starting with our subconscious mind.

We can achieve this through the empowerment of hypnotherapy and ancient breathing techniques. Trauma is more than just a memory. It is associated feelings and emotions that can be recollected over and over within a person’s mind and felt physically and emotionally. Left untreated, trauma can eventually be felt physically until the necessary steps are taken to heal.

What can you do to help yourself?

Hypnoanalysis is a method of psychoanalysis in which the client is guided into a deeply relaxed state. Under the guidance of a trained professional, the client is directed to free associations and childhood emotional responses and memories that are not serving that individual.

This form of hypnotherapy is extremely empowering for individuals as they are gently guided to release the blueprint of trauma within their subconscious mind that has been holding them back. This method is so effective because it works with the subconscious mind and the positive effects are experienced at a conscious level of thinking, feeling and behaving, long after therapy has ended.

Hypnoanalysis works for people from all different backgrounds, cultures and demographics. Hypnotherapy can achieve the client's desired results in a matter of weeks or months, often reporting no longer feeling triggered by the things that used to cause them upset. Clients regularly comment that they feel a positive transformation, or that a veil or heavy weight has been lifted and that finally, they feel an inner peace.

Hypnoanalysis is a particular form of hypnotherapy and should only ever be provided by a professional clinical hypnotherapist qualified and experienced to administer such therapy. Not all hypnotherapists are qualified in hypnoanalysis.

Breathwork is another very effective complementary modality to help with the effects of trauma. With its roots in yogic pranayama, there are many techniques. Using the breath, a skilled practitioner can guide the student to activate their nervous system to engender relaxation and calm the mind and emotions. Many pranayama breathing systems have stood the test of time, having survived for thousands of years. 

For more details on how hypnotherapy, hypnoanalysis and pranayama breathwork can help you, please contact me via my profile. I have over a decade of experience in treating trauma.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Hypnotherapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London WC1X & E18
Written by Deborah Humpage, D.Hyp LAPHPP, CNCH (Reg)
London WC1X & E18

Deborah Humpage is a Clinical Hypnotherapist and Qualified Yoga Teacher, specialising in pranayama breathing techniques. She has over a decade experience in successfully helping clients to heal their trauma. After many years in the corporate world, Deborah followed her vocation. Today she dedicates her life to helping others live a better life.

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