Understanding and working with trauma
Most of us are involved in a traumatic event at some point in our lives. Many of us overcome the impact of the trauma in a few weeks. For some, however, trauma can have significant effects, resulting in trauma-related disorders. These can include:
- Acute stress disorder.
- Adjustment Disorder.
- Disinhibited social engagement disorder.
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
It is understood that 25-30% of people in the UK who experience a traumatic event will go on to develop some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, symptoms of trauma are not always apparent until years after the event and therefore not everyone will relate the symptoms they experience to the traumatic event.
Developing our understanding of trauma and its effects on how we feel is a step towards understanding why things such as anxiety and depression sometimes seem to suddenly occur.
What do we really know about trauma and its effects?
There are two types of trauma. Type one trauma is experienced following one event. Type two (complex trauma) is trauma resulting from longstanding or repeated ordeals. Ordeals can include (although are not exclusive to):
- Getting a diagnosis of a serious illness.
- Psychological/physical/sexual abuse.
- Neglect (educational/physical/emotional).
- Having (or witnessing) a serious road accident.
- The unexpected injury or death of someone close.
- Being taken hostage/assaulted.
What are the symptoms of trauma?
As mentioned, symptoms of trauma can occur sometime after the actual event(s). Symptoms* of trauma are varied and include:
(*developing any one of these symptoms does not necessarily indicate trauma has occurred).
Trauma and our 'sense of who we are'
In a definition of trauma provided by Spiegel (1990), he stated that 'trauma... can leave either a view of the self that is damaged... or a fragmented sense of self'. If we consider that our sense of self determines how we think and feel about ourselves, then it is easier to understand the massive impact trauma can have on our feelings of mental well-being.
Why does trauma cause a fragmented sense of self?
In the world of analytical psychology, there is an understanding that our sense of self has different parts. These parts develop throughout our lifetime and very often one part will conflict with the other. At a most basic level, one can understand the idea that one part of us might want to buy that outfit that will change our lives… but another part of us attempts to stop us by rationalising whether we can afford it (I’m sure you get the idea).
A traumatic event may result in a part of us becoming either wounded or over protective and may result in a lack of integration of all the parts of our personality. When this happens a variety of symptoms (such as those listed above) may begin to manifest.
Overcoming the effects of trauma
I believe that it intuitively makes sense that one of the ways to help an individual to overcome the effects of trauma is to help them develop a positive sense of self.
Whilst common forms of treatment for PTSD include counselling, psychotherapy, CBT, humanistic therapy and group therapy, an incredibly effective form of working with developing a positive sense of self is something called ego state therapy (or parts therapy) using hypnosis. Advanced brain working recursive therapy also provides a four-week programme aimed at developing a healthy sense of self, as well as helping to overcome some of the trauma based memories that you may find troublesome.