How to Recover from Emotional Trauma
Emotional trauma is a serious issue that many people struggle with. If you are suffering from emotional trauma, it can be hard to know where to start on the path toward healing. This post will give some helpful tips for recovering from emotional trauma.
Emotional trauma is extremely common, so there is no shame in dealing with it yourself.
In this article, you will learn how to recover from emotional trauma.
How to Recover from Emotional Trauma
Everyone handles stressful events differently. Two people can survive a natural disaster but have different emotional responses to the event. One may quickly move on without any problems, while the other may struggle with nightmares and flashbacks that last for months or years.
How trauma affects each person depends on varying factors, including genetics, mental health, physical health, environment, and coping skills you have at the time of the trauma. Also, if you have been exposed to multiple traumas in the past, you may have a different reaction than if the event is your first trauma. For example, a child repeatedly abused by a parent growing up may have learned to numb their emotions. The characteristics of the trauma also play a role in emotional responses.
Types of Trauma
There are four types of trauma, each caused by different levels of exposure:
- Acute trauma or a one-time event that causes stress or threatens safety.
- Chronic trauma, or when someone is repeatedly exposed to stressful and dangerous occurrences.
- Complex trauma, or exposure to multiple traumatic events.
- Secondary or vicarious trauma, or when someone close to you experiences trauma, their pain makes you feel emotionally overwhelmed or stressed.
Emotional Responses to Trauma
Specific reactions can be identified when a traumatic event causes an emotional response. Examples of various emotions include numbness, anger, fear, hyperarousal, hopelessness, confusion, guilt, sadness, and denial. Flashbacks, where someone relives the event repeatedly in their mind, often occur, along with nightmares and tantrums.
Some people may have emotional outbursts, and others may isolate themselves and withdraw from family and friends. Insomnia and other sleep disturbances may also occur.
Who Experiences Trauma?
According to reports, 65 to 70% of Americans have experienced trauma at some point in their lives. Anyone can experience trauma at any given time. Some common traumatic events include being bullied, physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. Other traumas are natural disasters, divorce, the death of a loved one, car accidents, major injuries or illnesses, acts of terrorism, and war.
What is considered trauma to one person may not be traumatic for another. Also, someone experiencing trauma may have other physical or mental health issues that exacerbate the emotional response to trauma.
Co-Occurring Disorders with Trauma
Co-occurring disorders are diagnosed when a person meets the criteria for a mental health disorder and a substance use disorder. Many people misuse alcohol or drugs to cope with emotional trauma. While this may seem to work temporarily, the symptoms of both disorders worsen over time.
The more prolonged disorders go untreated, the more serious the side effects of emotional trauma.
Effects of Emotional Trauma
Unwanted side effects of trauma can include impulsive or self-destructive behaviors. For example, some people increase their misuse of substances and develop a substance use disorder.
You may also act compulsively and struggle to maintain relationships. Sexual problems, uncontrollable and intrusive thoughts, intense physical and psychological distress, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that affects your hormones by changing how they respond to stressful events. PTSD has also been called shell shock or combat fatigue in the past. Diagnostic criteria for PTSD are broken down into four categories, including intrusion, avoidance, alterations in cognition and mood, and alterations in arousal and reactivity.
After a traumatic experience, you may experience intrusive thoughts and memories, dreams, and nightmares. Flashes of the trauma may occur randomly throughout the day. Some use alcohol or drugs to suppress intrusive thoughts or images.
It’s common for some with post-traumatic stress to try and avoid anything that has to do with the traumatic event. They may not even want to talk about the event. People, places, and objects can trigger painful emotions, so they avoid them altogether.
Alterations in Cognition and Mood
Thoughts about a traumatic event can become destructive and distorted. A person may start blaming themselves or someone else for the event or begin to believe negative thoughts about themselves. These distorted thoughts change a person’s mood over time, causing increased depression and anxiety. It becomes hard to experience positive emotions.
Alterations in Arousal and Reactivity
Paranoia, being easily startled, and behaving self-destructively are examples of how emotional trauma can influence arousal and reactivity. Anger outbursts and sleep disturbances are other examples. Things that did not cause overreaction now seem to set off a negative response easily.
Many treatments are available to help you overcome emotional trauma that has been studied and proven to work. In a short time, you can see positive results.
Recovering from Emotional Trauma
Treating emotional trauma may include multiple therapies. An extensive assessment is needed to determine if you have mental health issues other than PTSD, underlying physical ailments, substance use misuse or disorders, and which type of trauma you have experienced.
The information gathered will be used to create a treatment plan that can include medication, medically supervised detox if you have a substance use disorder, residential or intensive outpatient services, support groups, or individual counseling. Cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior, or eye movement desensitization and reprocessing are utilized. Most treatment plans take an integrative, holistic approach to treating emotional trauma and combine these programs. They also add alternative programs like equine therapy, art or music therapy, meditation, yoga, and family therapy.
There are also things you can do to enhance your emotional trauma recovery.
Your mental and physical health must take priority. Taking the time to work on your trauma can cause problems in the future. Exercise, practice mindfulness, accept support from those who love you, avoid isolation socially, get involved in your community, and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Knowing when to reach out for help is crucial. It is never too early or too late to call for professional support. Our call center counselors are available 24/7 to help you start your emotional trauma recovery journey today.
- Leonard J. What is trauma? Types, symptoms, and treatments. Published June 3, 2020. Accessed October 5, 2022. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/trauma
- Boyd JE, Lanius RA, McKinnon MC. Mindfulness-based treatments for posttraumatic stress disorder: a review of the treatment literature and neurobiological evidence. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2018;43(1):7-25. doi:10.1503/jpn.170021
Last medically reviewed October 5, 2022