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Trauma: What Is Trauma And How Does It Change Into PTSD?

That is a good question isn't it? There is so much literature on trauma and PTSD and having experienced, discussed at length and researched how PTSD forms, it would appear that not all trauma results in PTSD. Contrary to the popular belief that people who have experienced trauma always develop PTSD.

It isn't even related to what type of trauma you've suffered. How you process the trauma is key in whether or not it develops into PTSD.

What is trauma?

A traumatic event, repeated and prolonged traumatic events (chronic) or exposure to varied and multiple traumatic events (complex) causes a lasting emotional response where the body creates a state of hyper alertness and believes there is the threat of imminent danger even though the event itself is no longer a threat.

So what is a traumatic event?

An event that can be classed as traumatic can originate from:

  • A natural disaster - flood, fire, cyclone/tornado/hurricane.

  • Sexual assault/abuse - as a child, as a victim of rape/molestation, by the partner

  • Physical assault/abuse - in the home, by the partner, in the form of bullying, in the community

  • Life threatening situations - experiencing or witnessing shootings/stabbings, deadly accidents, kidnapping, hostage situation

  • Medical trauma - hospitalisation, severe illness, threat of death

  • Grief - unexpected loss of a loved one, orpiment/carer

  • Terrorism and violence - also in combat,

Have I forgotten anything? possibly. As you see there are many events that can be considered as traumatic events.

Do you have loved and trusted people around you?

If you feel supported and grew up surrounded by people who love you there is a chance you will have someone to talk to. If however you are ashamed of what happened in any way whatsoever - a common theme in trauma due to the sheer feeling of powerlessness - there is a chance you won't want to burden your loved ones with your feelings. If you do pluk up the courage to talk about it and you are given the impression that you need to shut up/stop talking or are even told something along the lines of 'are you still going on about that?', there is a chance you will shut down and stop all feelings about the event - suppressing the feelings that can eventually lead to PTSD.

"As long as you keep secrets and suppress information, you are fundamentally at war with yourself. Hiding your core feelings takes an enormous amount of energy, it saps your motivation to pursue worthwhile goals, and it leaves you feeling bored and shut down. Meanwhile, stress hormones keep flooding your body, leading to headaches, muscle aches, problems with your bowels or sexual functions—and irrational behaviors that may embarrass you and hurt the people around you. Only after you identify the source of these responses can you start using your feelings as signals of problems that require your urgent attention."

If you do feel loved and supported and there is a patient sounding board you can always talk to the chances are huge that you won't develop PTSD. This situation is however very rare. If you start therapy with a professional shortly after the event there is also a high chance it won't develop into PTSD.

How do you know if you have PTSD?

In my case I didn't! That is the simple truth. I truly believed my restlessness was due to ADHD - a label I jokingly gave myself. I really could not sit still. I was busy to the point of tiring both myself and my body out eventually developing serious conditions such as repeated hernias. I did look for restlessness on the internet but didn't find anything that could point to how I was feeling. I eventually had something like a burnout or a bore-out coupled with panic attacks when I eventually had to take myself seriously.

If you have experienced things you're too ashamed to talk about, if you have 'put the past behind you' but still feel restless and have huge difficulty relaxing, there is a chance you might have it.

The first step is talking about anything traumatic in your life, preferably to someone who is prepared for it and won't cause you stop talking by their reactions.

If you're looking to investigate any past traumatic events....

Feel free to contact me or book an introductory session. The first step is awareness.

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