It is often said that trauma survivors have symptoms not memories. For many people their memories may be fragmented or simply non-existent. And they are left with sometimes overwhelming symptoms that destroy quality of life and make day to day living extremely challenging.
In this blog and my next one, I’m going to look at some of the most common trauma and PTSD symptoms and the diagram here is one that I always show clients in their first session. Although sometimes it can be daunting for people to realise “there are SO many ways that trauma has affected me”, it usually also brings a huge sense of relief. An AHA moment. “Now I see WHY I was feeling so bad”. A lot of people describe it as “joining the dots”.
Starting to identify our individual symptoms is the first step to giving us a sense of control over how we feel:
This is far and away the most common symptom of trauma. A feeling of being always “on the edge” emotionally, easily stressed, unable to relax, unable to stop worrying, panic attacks, being overwhelmed by strong emotions, easily annoyed or irritable
Low Mood and Depression
Not surprisingly we can feel down, depressed or hopeless, have suicidal thoughts, find little pleasure in doing anything and little motivation to change, difficulty in concentrating
We can be on constant alert and so prone to suddenly erupt with anger (verbal and/or physical). Of course this can cause damage to relationships and make us feel even more isolated. Anger is often the closest emotion to the surface but usually covers up more primary emotions such as fear, shame and hurt.
Shame, guilt and low self-esteem
Traumatised people feel a lot of shame and guilt, whether they are responsible for the event or not. For example, victims of sexual abuse or rape often feel responsible, that they must have done something to cause it or that if they had been more careful, it would not have happened. Guilt usually implies a feeling of responsibility “I DID something bad” . Shame is more a sense of complete worthlessness – “I AM bad.” Soldiers who return from war often experience survivor’s guilt, as do those who have survived a disaster while others have not. They many then question why they survived when others may have deserved to more than them. They may question their behaviour, were they cowardly, was there more they could have done?
In order to cope with these challenging symptoms, on top of coping with all the stress of modern life, it’s not surprising that we turn to alcohol, cigarettes, drugs – prescribed or illegal such as cannabis, heroin or cocaine. And all kinds of other addictions such as shopping, Internet, over-exercising, gambling, toxic relationships and risky behaviours such as driving too fast or high risk sports. It’s very important to stress here that any addiction is simply a survival strategy – a way for you to cope with overwhelming and terrifying emotions.
Such as making snap decisions such as taking an impulsive trip, veering suddenly off the road while driving, suddenly being absent from work or walking out of a job, making abrupt changes in lifestyle, such as ending a relationship.
To be continued
My next blog post will continue with the discussion of trauma symptoms and will look at health and sleep problems, flashbacks and nightmares, repetition compulsion, self- harming and suicidal thoughts, dissociation and numbing, avoidance and hearing voices.
Need some advice and support?
If you are struggling with any of the issues raised in this article, or indeed any other emotional issues or life challenges and would like to talk things over in complete confidentiality, call Alison Winfield, Mindfully Well Counselling Cork on 087 9934541.
Book a counselling session today!