What is going on with me? Common Symptoms of Trauma

Have you ever wondered, ‘what is going on with me?’ after a difficult situation or experience?  Let’s say, for example, you had a near-miss while driving, and you later find yourself shaking, hyper-aware of all of the cars around you, breathing shallowly, quick to a bit of road rage, and you can’t stop thinking about what happened, despite the fact that you know you are safe and okay.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI would venture to say that very few of us make it very far in life without experiencing some sort of distressing event or situation (that is, some form of trauma).  Our brains and bodies are wired to respond in certain ways, to help us get through … but sometimes these symptoms feel strange or don’t seem to make much sense, and can leave us wondering what the heck is going on with me?!?  This is even more difficult if the (under-informed) people around you are telling you to ‘get over it,’ or ‘it wasn’t that big of a deal.’

When one experiences, or is witness to, a disturbing event or situation, they often experience various symptoms of trauma.  Different people will experience different responses at different times, and yet all of these responses are completely normal, and will likely diminish over time – particularly by working through them with the support of a trauma-informed therapist.

  • Feeling Vulnerable
  • Shock, Disbelief, Numbness
  • Anxiety
  • Panicky Feelings
  • Hypervigilance
  • Exaggerated Startle Response
  • Intrusive Thoughts, Flashbacks, Unwanted Memories
  • Loss of sense of security and safety
  • Feeling Detached from others
  • Loss of interest in previously pleasurable activities
  • Withdrawal from family and friends
  • Anger, Irritability, feeling Argumentative
  • Mistrust
  • Excessive Fear
  • Clinging to Family and Friends
  • Self-Blame  (“If only I …” “I should have … “)
  • Nightmares, Difficulty Sleeping
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Changes in Appetite
  • Feeling like emotions are out of control
  • Regression, behaviors from earlier ages emerge, e.g., sleeping with the lights on
  • Difficulty Concentrating
  • Deep Sadness
  • Depression
  • Physical Discomfort or Pain, such as headaches, stomach ache, muscle tension, nausea
  • Feeling Frozen, Immobile
  • Shame
  • Sabotage Behavior (finding yourself getting in your own way)
  • Feeling Overwhelmed
  • Suicidal Ideation – thinking about ending things, making attempts, taking action on thoughts
  • Difficulty with Intimacy
  • Avoidance of certain people, places, situations

When we hear the word “trauma,” we often think of “big T traumas,” relatively big, distinct events such as a tornado, war, child abuse, or a sexual assault.  However, these symptoms may show up for individuals as a result of relatively smaller traumas – “little t traumas” – things such as a consistently critical parent who made a child feel they were never good enough, a feeling that persists into adulthood.  Or, from growing up or living in an unsafe neighborhood, or from experiencing a loved-one’s illness.  It can be easy to dismiss the severity of these “little t traumas,” by comparing them to larger events, but keep in mind that over time, these experiences and situations can be just as damaging, and cause the same responsive symptoms to develop.

 Another important thing to keep in mind is that all of these symptoms are highly adaptive responses to abnormal situations, that allow us to get through and survive.  The problem comes when we get “stuck” in these response patterns, and they start to interfere with our present-moment lives – in a sense the past starts to interfere with the present.

 What can you do about it?

  1. Give yourself a break, and recognize that what you are experiencing is normal.
  2. Reach out for support from people you trust.
  3. Engage the help of a trauma-informed therapist, who can offer you guidance and support in working through your experiences.
  4. Practice extra self-care, focusing on the basics of nutrition, sleep, exercise, relaxation, and spending time with those you love.