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Understanding the Trauma Brain and Exploring its Impact

Shireen Koul February 9, 2024

"The paradox of trauma is that it has both the power to destroy and the power to transform and resurrect." -Peter A. Levine

What is Trauma?

Psychological trauma emerges as a response to highly stressful events such as those encountered in war zones, natural disasters, or accidents. The aftermath of trauma can induce a spectrum of physical and emotional symptoms, with immediate reactions often involving shock and denial. Over the long term, individuals may grapple with unpredictable emotions, reliving the trauma through flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical manifestations like headaches or nausea. The effects of trauma can vary widely, with some individuals experiencing symptoms that dissipate after a few weeks, while others grapple with more enduring consequences. Individual trauma is characterised by events or circumstances that result in physical harm, emotional distress, and life-threatening situations, leaving lasting adverse effects on an individual's mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. However, not everyone who undergoes a stressful event will necessarily develop trauma.  It is crucial to emphasise that trauma recognizes no boundaries in terms of age, gender, socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. This universal nature underscores the prevalence of trauma in both adults and children within all communities.

Moreover, individuals dealing with mental and substance use disorders are particularly susceptible to experiencing trauma. In essence, the impact of trauma extends beyond the immediate aftermath of a distressing event, affecting various facets of an individual's well-being. Recognizing the diverse manifestations of trauma and its potential long-term consequences is essential for fostering understanding, empathy, and effective support for those navigating the complexities of psychological trauma.

For example, consider a car accident as a traumatic event, where its impact extends beyond the immediate moment of collision. For the driver, the aftermath involves initial shock and denial, followed by weeks of unpredictable emotions, including anxiety and guilt. Physical symptoms such as headaches may persist, and flashbacks to the accident can intrude on their thoughts. Long-term effects might manifest as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), leading to persistent nightmares and avoidance of driving. Strained relationships could develop due to mood changes and emotional withdrawal. The passenger, too, experiences shock and denial, potentially coupled with physical injuries. Short-term reactions include pain from injuries and a range of emotional responses, from anxiety about riding in cars to survivor's guilt. Lingering physical injuries may impact daily life, affecting physical health, while emotional scars could lead to heightened stress in future driving situations or trigger anxiety disorders. Relationships may be strained due to the passenger's altered emotional state. In both cases, the car accident becomes a pivotal event, leaving lasting marks on mental, physical, and emotional well-being, shaping individuals' perceptions, behaviours, and overall quality of life.

How The Brain Is Impacted By Trauma

Trauma has profound impacts on the brain, encompassing neurobiological, psychological, and emotional dimensions:

Neurobiological Impact: Trauma triggers a complex cascade of neurobiological changes. The amygdala, a key region in emotional processing, becomes hyperactive, leading to heightened emotional responses, particularly fear and anxiety (Bremner, 2006). The hippocampus, responsible for memory consolidation, may undergo structural changes, impacting the ability to contextualise and regulate emotions (McEwen, 2012). 

Psychological Impact: The aftermath of trauma often leaves survivors grappling with a pervasive sense of lack of control. This perceived helplessness is linked to alterations in cognitive processes, with trauma disrupting executive functions in the prefrontal cortex (Bremner, 2006). This impairment contributes to difficulties in decision-making and planning, intensifying feelings of powerlessness (van der Kolk, 2014). Persistent rumination, a hallmark of post-traumatic stress, further reinforces the lack of control, as survivors involuntarily replay distressing memories, hindering their ability to focus on the present (Bryant, 2011). 

Emotional Impact: Trauma significantly influences emotional regulation, with survivors often experiencing intense and unpredictable emotions. The heightened activity in the amygdala, coupled with weakened prefrontal regulation, amplifies emotional reactivity (van der Kolk, 2014). This emotional dysregulation contributes to a sense of instability and reinforces the perception of diminished control over one's emotional responses (Bryant, 2011). 

Survivors of Trauma may find it challenging to modulate emotional reactions in various contexts, affecting their interpersonal relationships and overall emotional well-being. Understanding the major effects, such as the sense of lack of control and persistent rumination, provides insights into the challenges faced by trauma survivors as they navigate the complexities of post-traumatic adaptation.

Neurobiology of Trauma

The neurobiology of trauma involves intricate processes in the brain that influence an individual's response to and recovery from traumatic events. Understanding how the brain reacts during and after such events provides insights into the complex mechanisms underlying the impact of trauma. 

Brain's Response to Trauma: 

During a traumatic event, the brain undergoes rapid and coordinated changes to process and respond to the threat. The amygdala, a region crucial for emotional processing, plays a central role. It rapidly assesses the sensory input for potential danger, triggering the release of stress hormones like adrenaline. This acute stress response, often referred to as the "fight-or-flight" response, prepares the body to react quickly to the perceived threat. Simultaneously, the prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making and emotional regulation, may become impaired during intense stress. This can result in difficulties with executive functions, contributing to a sense of disorientation and impaired decision-making during the traumatic event (Bremner, 2006). 

Role of the Amygdala: The amygdala's involvement in processing traumatic memories is particularly significant. It contributes to the heightened emotional responses associated with traumatic experiences. The amygdala helps encode emotionally charged memories, particularly those linked to fear and danger. In the context of trauma, this heightened emotional encoding can lead to persistent and intense emotional reactions when triggered by reminders or cues associated with the traumatic event. Additionally, the amygdala's hyperactivity during and after trauma can contribute to symptoms like hypervigilance, increased startle responses, and difficulties with emotional regulation. These responses may persist beyond the traumatic event, influencing an individual's overall emotional well-being. 

Role of Hippocampus: The hippocampus, another key brain region, plays a critical role in memory consolidation and contextualising experiences. However, the hippocampus may be adversely affected in the face of trauma. Stress hormones released during trauma can impact the hippocampus, potentially leading to structural changes and impairing its ability to process and integrate memories effectively (McEwen, 2012). As a result, traumatic memories may be encoded in a fragmented or disorganised manner, contributing to symptoms like flashbacks and intrusive thoughts. The compromised function of the hippocampus can also influence the individual's ability to differentiate between past and present experiences, contributing to the ongoing emotional and psychological impact of the trauma.

Long-term Effects of Trauma

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop following exposure to a traumatic event, evoking feelings of fear, shock, or helplessness. The consequences of PTSD may persist over the long term, manifesting in symptoms such as flashbacks, sleep disturbances, and heightened anxiety. Traumatic events encompass accidents, wars, crimes, fires, the loss of a loved one, or various forms of abuse, and the recurrence of distressing thoughts and memories may persist even after the immediate danger has subsided. It is estimated that 7-8% of the population is affected by PTSD, with a higher prevalence among women than men (National Center for PTSD, 2023). Instead of diminishing over time, the impact of PTSD may exacerbate anxiety and fearfulness, disrupting an individual's life for an extended period. Treatment can be instrumental in facilitating recovery.

Psychological Consequences of Trauma

A diagnosis of PTSD, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5) criteria set by the American Psychiatric Association, requires meeting specific guidelines. These criteria involve exposure to death, a personal death threat, serious injury, or sexual violence, either directly or indirectly. 

For more than a month, individuals must experience intrusion symptoms, avoidance symptoms, mood and thinking-affecting symptoms, and arousal/reactivity symptoms arising after the traumatic event. 

  1. Intrusion symptoms may include nightmares, flashbacks, and fearful thoughts. 

  2. Avoidance symptoms involve steering clear of event reminders. 

  3. Mood and thinking symptoms encompass memory lapses, feelings of guilt and detachment, reduced interest in life, and concentration difficulties. 

  4. Arousal/reactivity symptoms involve sleep disturbances, irritability, hypersensitivity, and a persistent sense of tension and anxiety. 

These symptoms must cause significant distress or impair the individual's ability to function in work or relationships. 

Flashbacks, categorised as intrusive symptoms, are vivid re-experiences of past traumatic incidents, occurring suddenly and unexpectedly, though not every individual with PTSD will necessarily experience them. 

Experiencing a traumatic event may also trigger intense feelings of shame and guilt. Individuals may blame themselves, believing they could have prevented the event or its consequences. Societal expectations and stigma surrounding certain traumas can compound these emotions, making it difficult for individuals to openly discuss their struggles. For example, a survivor of a natural disaster may grapple with guilt for not foreseeing or preventing the impact on their community, adding a layer of emotional complexity to the trauma. 

Cognitive Impact of Trauma on the Brain

Extreme stress can severely impact how our minds work, especially in conditions like posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD develops after going through terrifying and life-threatening events, causing intense reliving of those events through disruptive memories and nightmares. People with PTSD tend to avoid reminders of the event and become very alert to possible threats around them. These symptoms affect how our brains handle things like memory, attention, planning, and problem-solving, showing how emotions can influence how we think.

The ideas from influential theories on PTSD highlight how emotions and thinking interact to create the symptoms. These theories suggest that when emotional stress changes the networks in our brains that deal with perception, meaning, and actions, it can lead to mental health issues. In PTSD, the networks that deal with fear become very detailed and easy to access, affecting how we remember and recall information. For example, a detailed fear network might make it harder for us to process information that isn't related to threats, making us more focused on potential dangers in our surroundings (Chemtob et al., 1988). Additionally, parts of the fear network that deal with feeling threatened may make us see even harmless things as dangerous. Intrusive memories happen when the feeling of threat spreads from one part of the network to others, while parts representing different perspectives get suppressed.

How People Change After A Traumatic Event

Phineas Gage's case is a pivotal historical example that sheds light on the intricate connection between brain injury and personality changes. In 1848, Gage survived a harrowing accident when a tamping iron penetrated his frontal lobe, a region crucial for emotional regulation and decision-making. Previously known for his responsible and amiable demeanour, Gage underwent a dramatic transformation post-injury, displaying impulsive and socially inappropriate behaviour (Damasio et al., 1994). This case underscored the pivotal role of the frontal lobes in governing personality traits and social conduct. Gage reportedly displayed impulsive decision-making, engaged in inappropriate comments, and showed a disregard for the consequences of his actions (Damasio et al., 1994). These observable changes reflected a marked shift from his previous responsible and amiable demeanour, illustrating the direct impact of the frontal lobe injury on his behaviour and social interactions.

Henry Molaison, commonly known as H.M., provides another compelling example. Suffering from severe epilepsy, H.M. underwent a surgical procedure in which his hippocampus was removed to alleviate seizures. However, this intervention resulted in profound anterograde amnesia, preventing H.M. from forming new long-term memories. This case illuminated the crucial role of the hippocampus in memory consolidation (Corkin, 2002). 

Together, the cases of Gage and H.M. laid the groundwork for understanding the specific functions of different brain regions in shaping cognition and behaviour. Contemporary studies have furthered our understanding of the psychological consequences of traumatic events, whether caused by accidents or combat experiences. Such studies highlight consistent patterns of cognitive and emotional alterations following trauma (Smith, 2018). These findings reinforce the notion that the brain is intricately connected to our behavioural and emotional responses, and its disruption can lead to profound changes in an individual's life. Exploring cases like Phineas Gage and H.M., alongside contemporary research, deepens our understanding of how traumatic events can reshape not only the brain but also an individual's personality, cognition, and emotional well-being.

Developmental Impact 

Impact of Trauma on the Everyday Life of Individuals

Traumatic occurrences are unpredictable and distressing events that can have enduring effects on individuals. While survivors of trauma often go on to lead ordinary lives, the repercussions may manifest in changes to mood, motivation, and relationships. It is typical to undergo some shifts following a distressing and uncontrollable event, and recognizing the need for supportive trauma treatment is crucial.

Given the diversity in life experiences and backgrounds, each person may respond uniquely to a traumatic incident. What is traumatic for one individual may not elicit the same distress in another. The reflection on and recovery from trauma is an individual process, leading to varied effects on relationships, self-confidence, and the overall sense of safety for each person.

Early life experiences can shape lasting attachment styles that persist into adulthood. An individual's attachment style indicates their preference for warmth and closeness in relationships, impacting communication, the handling of separations, conflicts, and intimacy. Experiencing trauma in adulthood can lead to shifts in attachment styles, as it influences our overall perception of the world (Lahousen et al., 2019). Frequently, the most profound effects of an individual's trauma are observed by intimate partners, spouses, and family members. Witnessing the impacts of trauma on a loved one can be alarming, perplexing, and challenging. Moreover, spouses and partners may jointly undergo emotional repercussions following trauma. Those who share a traumatic experience may employ diverse coping mechanisms, and these coping strategies can either strengthen or strain relationships (Millán. (n.d.)

In adulthood, it is possible to modify maladaptive attachment styles through personal introspection, counselling, and supportive interventions. Investing time in enhancing relationships not only has the potential to improve the dynamics within those relationships but can also contribute to addressing associated conditions such as anxiety, PTSD, or depression.

The Role of Therapeutic Approaches

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) stands out as a prominent strategy for addressing trauma, particularly when individuals experience subsequent PTSD. A study conducted in 2017 focused on trauma survivors with both PTSD and borderline personality disorder (BPD), revealing that CBT led to improvements in PTSD symptoms, surpassing other treatment methods (Kredlow et al., 2017). The study highlighted the substantial impact of cognitive behavioural therapy on PTSD symptoms, maintaining a "large effect size" for up to a year post-treatment cessation. Similarly, a 2020 study on phase-oriented treatment for PTSD symptoms reported a similarly significant effect size, indicating the reliability of these treatment approaches across various sample sizes (Corrigan, Fitzpatrick, Hanna, & Dyer, 2020).

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is another psychotherapy technique designed to alleviate psychological stress through interactive methods. According to the underlying theory, incomplete processing of traumatic and distressing memories can lead to post-traumatic stress (Gotter, 2023). When stimuli such as sights, sounds, words, or smells trigger these unprocessed memories, individuals may re-experience them, resulting in emotional distress and symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The primary goal of EMDR is to diminish trauma symptoms by altering the way memories are stored in the brain. In essence, EMDR therapists guide individuals through a sequence of bilateral (side-to-side) eye movements while recalling traumatic or triggering experiences in small segments until the memories cease to cause distress. Originally developed for treating trauma and PTSD, EMDR has shown potential in alleviating symptoms of various mental health issues, particularly those intertwined with past traumatic experiences.

Light at The End of The Tunnel: Life After Trauma

Overcoming trauma is a journey that, despite its challenges, holds the promise of resilience, mindfulness, and the incredible healing capacity of the human brain. 

Individuals possess an inherent capacity for resilience, the ability to bounce back from adversity. Resilience is not the absence of struggle but rather the strength to face and navigate challenges. Cultivating resilience involves developing coping strategies, fostering a positive mindset, and building a support network. Recognizing one's inner strength is a crucial step towards overcoming the impact of trauma.

Mindfulness practices play a transformative role in the healing process. By staying present in the moment, individuals can develop a heightened awareness of their thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, empower individuals to manage stress, reduce anxiety, and enhance overall well-being. Integrating mindfulness into daily life can provide a stabilizing anchor amid the aftermath of trauma.

The brain's remarkable ability to adapt and rewire itself, known as neuroplasticity, is a beacon of hope in the healing journey. While trauma can imprint on neural pathways, the brain can form new connections and heal. Engaging in activities that stimulate cognitive functions, seeking therapeutic interventions, and pursuing a healthy lifestyle contribute to the brain's resilience and recovery. Over time, the brain can reshape its response to trauma, fostering emotional well-being and a sense of normalcy.

Embracing a healthy lifestyle is integral to the healing process. Nourishing the body with balanced nutrition, regular exercise, and sufficient rest supports overall well-being. Establishing routines and engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment contributes to a positive mindset. Additionally, seeking professional support, whether through therapy or support groups, provides valuable guidance on the path to recovery.

The journey toward overcoming trauma involves harnessing inner strength, incorporating mindfulness practices, and trusting in the brain's remarkable ability to heal. With resilience, mindfulness, and a commitment to a healthy life, individuals can navigate the path toward a brighter future after trauma.

What Trauma Means and Shattering Myths Surrounding It 

Myths about trauma often perpetuate misconceptions, attributing it solely to extreme events. In reality, trauma encompasses a spectrum of experiences that induce profound changes in behaviour, thought patterns, and emotional well-being. It extends beyond singular incidents, capturing the enduring impact on an individual's overall life. 

Clinical Definition 

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), trauma is defined as exposure to certain events that can have a profound impact on an individual's mental health.  It involves exposure to death, serious injury, or sexual violence, either directly, as a witness, or through professional duties (APA, 2013). This clinical definition emphasises the range of experiences that can be considered traumatic, acknowledging that it is not limited to personal victimisation but also extends to witnessing or professionally engaging with such events. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) by the World Health Organization (WHO, 2018) broadens the definition to encompass lasting adverse effects on mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being. 

In contrast to the DSM-5, the ICD-11 expands the definition beyond specific events to encompass the enduring consequences that trauma can have across various dimensions of well-being. It recognizes that trauma's impact extends beyond mental health to include lasting adverse effects on physical, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of an individual's life (WHO, 2018). This holistic approach to defining trauma acknowledges the interconnectedness of these dimensions and underscores the complexity of trauma's effects on an individual.

These clinical definitions from the DSM-5 and ICD-11 collectively underscore the multifaceted nature of trauma. While the DSM-5 provides a specific focus on the events that can be considered traumatic, the ICD-11 takes a more comprehensive approach by emphasising the enduring consequences that permeate various facets of an individual's well-being. Together, these definitions offer a nuanced understanding of the trauma that goes beyond a singular event and recognizes the intricate interplay between the different dimensions of an individual's life in the aftermath of such experiences.

Societal Trends in the Use of Trauma

Contrastingly, laypeople often use the term "trauma" more casually, attaching it to a variety of distressing experiences. This colloquial usage may not align with the clinical depth outlined by the DSM and ICD. People unfamiliar with the true meaning of the word, ‘trauma’ might describe everyday challenges as "traumatic," diluting the specificity that clinical definitions aim to uphold.

Casual use of the term "trauma" has become a prevalent societal trend, with individuals often employing it informally to convey stress or difficulty. It is not uncommon to hear expressions like, "I had such a traumatic day at work." This reflects a shift in language usage, where the severity of the term may be diluted in everyday conversation. While the intention may be to convey a sense of stress or difficulty, the clinical definitions of trauma, as outlined by the DSM-5 and ICD-11, involve exposure to events like death, serious injury, or sexual violence, which are significantly more severe than routine workplace challenges.

This casual use of "trauma" to describe commonplace difficulties illustrates how some people may unintentionally broaden the term's application, potentially diluting its clinical meaning. It highlights the contrast between the specific and severe events encompassed by clinical definitions and the more generalised application of the term in everyday language to describe various stressors and challenges. This phenomenon raises concerns about the potential consequences of its overuse, including societal trends, stigmatisation of severe trauma, and the inadvertent minimization of genuinely significant experiences. 

The overuse of "trauma" in everyday language carries detrimental consequences. Firstly, it may lead to the stigmatisation of severe trauma experiences. When the term is applied casually to describe routine challenges, there is a risk of diminishing the recognition and support needed for individuals who have genuinely undergone profound and distressing events. 

Stigmatisation and Minimisation of Trauma

The frequent and casual use of the term may contribute to the stigmatisation of severe trauma. As it becomes a catch-all phrase for any distressing situation, there is a potential danger of misunderstanding the gravity of genuine traumatic experiences. This can perpetuate misconceptions and hinder empathetic responses to individuals facing significant psychological challenges. Moreover, the broad and casual use of "trauma" may inadvertently minimise genuinely significant experiences. When everyday challenges are labelled as "traumatic," there is a risk of downplaying the profound impact of events that meet clinical criteria for trauma. This may hinder the validation and understanding of those who have undergone severe psychological distress. As the language evolves, it is crucial to maintain a nuanced understanding of the term to ensure accurate and empathetic communication about psychological challenges.

Clinical Implications 

Diagnosing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) poses clinical challenges, and the complexities are underscored by the diverse interpretations of the term "trauma." Clinical psychologist Dr. Carla Manly, an authority on mental health and author of "Joy From Fear," emphasises the variability in connotations attached to the word "trauma." She notes that its meaning can differ significantly among individuals, emphasising the need for a nuanced understanding. According to Dr. Manly, psychologists employ the term "trauma" to refer to "serious psychological damage." (Karlis, 2023). 

This definition aligns with the American Psychiatric Association, which emphasises that trauma results in enduring psychological consequences. The APA outlines that, following a traumatic event, individuals commonly experience shock and denial. Longer-term reactions encompass a spectrum of manifestations, including unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. These responses, while considered normal, can become impediments for some individuals in moving forward with their lives. The broader perspective offered by the APA delves into the intricacies of trauma, asserting that it occurs when events challenge an individual's fundamental beliefs about the world as a just, safe, and predictable place. This complexity adds layers to the diagnostic process, as clinicians must not only recognize specific symptoms but also contextualise them within the individual's broader worldview.

In clinical practice, diagnosing PTSD requires careful consideration of these nuances, acknowledging the subjective nature of trauma and its diverse manifestations. The challenge lies in creating a diagnostic framework that accommodates the varied responses to traumatic events while ensuring that individuals who genuinely experience serious psychological damage receive appropriate recognition and support.


A Step Towards Mindful Use of Terms

Understanding The Various Types of Trauma

In developing a mindful approach to the use of terminology related to trauma, it is crucial to delve into the understanding of different types of trauma and their nuanced implications. Acquiring a nuanced comprehension of acute, chronic, and complex trauma is pivotal for fostering sensitivity and precision in discussions surrounding these experiences. 

  1. Acute Trauma: This type of trauma is typically characterised by a single, intense incident that is short-lived but profoundly impactful (Courtois & Ford, 2009). Examples may include a sudden car accident, a natural disaster, or a one-time assault. Acute trauma can lead to immediate emotional and physical reactions, with individuals exhibiting symptoms such as shock, anxiety, or dissociation.

  2. Chronic Trauma: Chronic trauma involves prolonged and repetitive exposure to distressing events or situations (Courtois & Ford, 2009). It often occurs over an extended period, causing cumulative stress and impacting one's overall well-being. Examples of chronic trauma may include ongoing abuse, domestic violence, or extended periods of exposure to war and conflict.

  3. Complex Trauma: Also known as complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD), complex trauma arises from exposure to multiple traumatic events, typically over an extended duration, often involving interpersonal trauma and betrayal of trust (Courtois & Ford, 2009). Individuals with complex trauma may struggle with forming and maintaining healthy relationships, experience difficulties with emotion regulation, and exhibit a range of physical and psychological symptoms. 

Understanding these distinctions is essential for acknowledging the diverse ways trauma can manifest and recognizing the unique challenges faced by individuals who have experienced different types of traumatic events. It also promotes a more informed and compassionate discourse surrounding trauma.

What Does It Mean To Suppress Trauma? When Should You Seek Help?

The scars of trauma can be invisible, yet their impact can be profound. Recognizing the signs is crucial for both self-awareness and supporting others. While the experience of trauma is deeply personal, common threads often emerge. 

Emotionally, trauma can leave a trail of confusion, anger, and overwhelming fear. Denial and disbelief might be the initial shields, followed by waves of guilt, shame, and a gnawing sense of isolation. The world may feel unsafe, triggering anxiety and hypervigilance. The weight of sadness and hopelessness can be immense, leading some to feel numb or disconnected from themselves and others. 

Physically, the body often echoes the emotional turmoil. Sleep becomes elusive, haunted by nightmares reliving the event. Fatigue sets in, draining both energy and focus. Everyday sounds and sights can trigger a jolt of fear, leaving the person constantly on edge. Aches and pains may manifest, seemingly out of nowhere.

While navigating the aftermath of trauma is personal, there are moments when reaching out for professional help becomes crucial.  Here are some key indicators that suggest professional support might be beneficial: 

  1. When symptoms interfere with daily life: If the emotional and physical signs of trauma are significantly impacting your ability to function in work, relationships, or daily activities, it's time to consider seeking help. This could include difficulty sleeping, concentrating, maintaining healthy relationships, or managing basic tasks. 

  2. When symptoms worsen or persist: While some initial reactions like shock or disbelief are normal after trauma, if these feelings intensify or remain present for weeks or months, it's a sign that your coping mechanisms might need professional assistance. 

  3. When self-destructive behaviours emerge: Turning to alcohol, drugs, reckless behaviour, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms to numb the pain or escape the trauma's grip is a strong indicator that professional help is crucial. 

  4. When flashbacks or nightmares become overwhelming: Flashbacks and nightmares can be debilitating and retraumatizing. If they become frequent or significantly disrupt your sleep and well-being, seeking therapy can help manage these triggers and develop coping strategies. 

  5. When isolation and withdrawal become the norm: Trauma can lead to social isolation and withdrawal from loved ones. If you find yourself increasingly withdrawing and unable to connect with others, engaging in professional therapy can provide a safe space to process your emotions and rebuild social connections. 

  6. When suicidal thoughts or self-harm urges arise: Any thoughts of harming yourself or ending your life should be taken seriously and addressed immediately. Seek professional help or contact a crisis hotline for immediate support.

Fostering Awareness and Compassion for Trauma Recovery

Promoting awareness about trauma is an essential step toward fostering a compassionate and supportive community. Trauma can have profound and lasting effects on individuals, impacting their mental, emotional, and physical well-being. By raising awareness, we can break down the stigma surrounding trauma and encourage open conversations that promote understanding and empathy. As the renowned trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk once said, "Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect of mental health; safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives." The importance of creating a safe and supportive environment for those who have experienced trauma highlights the transformative power of human connection in the healing process. Awareness serves as a catalyst for change, inspiring communities to prioritise empathy, education, and resources to help individuals on their journey toward healing.

Through increased awareness, we empower individuals to recognize the signs of trauma, extend a helping hand, and foster a culture of resilience. Education plays a pivotal role in dispelling myths and misconceptions surrounding trauma, allowing us to build a society that understands the complexities of the human experience. As we collectively strive to promote awareness about trauma, let us remember that compassion and empathy are potent tools for healing. By embracing the power of safe and supportive connections, we can create a world where survivors feel seen, heard, and valued. Together, as a compassionate and informed community, we can contribute to a brighter future where the shadows of trauma are replaced with the warmth of understanding and healing.


Shireen Koul is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP) under IJNGP.





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