Research shows that 70% of adults have experienced trauma throughout their lives, but what does that statistic really mean? As we know, trauma affects everyone differently, and what may be easily dismissed by one person can be debilitating for someone else.
That said, these adverse experiences can undoubtedly impact your functioning and alter how you think about yourself, others, and the world around you. Therefore, it's essential to understand the main impacts of trauma. Having this insight can help you identify your symptoms and get the help you need if you're struggling.
Healthy self-esteem makes us feel whole and competent. We need to believe in ourselves to make good choices and maintain a level of confidence as we navigate through life.
Trauma can fundamentally impact your self-worth. It can trigger immense guilt and shame- even when the experience wasn't your fault.
Poor self-esteem, of course, can affect your life in many ways. For instance, you may find yourself feeling emotionally stunted or afraid to take necessary risks. Or, you might struggle with control issues or perfectionism.
Trauma can affect how safe you feel with other people. This is especially true if you experienced childhood trauma from one or more of your caretakers. If you grew up in a world that felt chaotic or unwelcoming, it might seem challenging to trust people. After all, you don't want to be hurt again.
Relationship problems vary, but they can include struggles like:
feeling like you aren't allowed to have or implement boundaries
trusting others too quickly (or not trusting them at all)
continuously attracting abusive or toxic people
isolating yourself from others despite wanting connection
exploiting others to ensure you meet your own needs
guarding yourself against vulnerability within your relationships
assuming people will always hurt or abandon you
becoming overly jealous, clingy, or insecure in your relationships
Poor Impulse Control
It's no surprise that trauma is a significant precursor for substance use, eating disorders, and other addictive or compulsive behaviors. When emotions feel too large or painful, many people attempt to numb them altogether.
At first, this strategy works. In fact, it works very well. But, over time, as your body habituates and builds a tolerance to the new habit, you are left feeling even more anxious, depressed, ashamed, and guilty. In addition, you have to manage your uncomfortable feelings and cope with all the addictive energy that comes from maintaining your vice.
Difficulties With Emotional Regulation
Many people who struggle with depression or anxiety also have histories of trauma. This relationship makes sense: trauma impacts the parts of the brain associated with memory, fear, and hypervigilance. As a result, how you respond to your emotions may be closely rooted in the trauma you experienced in the past.
Difficulties with emotional regulation can mean you:
feel anxious in most situations (even when you're relatively sure you're safe).
can't feel happy or excited about anything
struggle with somatic symptoms like panic attacks or physical pains
have suicidal thoughts when you're depressed
don't really know how you feel at a given time (because you often numb or detach yourself from your emotions)
lash out at others when you're upset
withdraw or isolate because you don't want others to see you when you're struggling
Some people who struggle with their emotions try to compensate for their difficulties in other ways. For instance, they might become hyperfocused on succeeding at school or work. Or, they fall into caretaking roles where they can look after other people rather than focus on themselves.
Compounded or Complex Trauma
In some cases, traumatic experiences can practically pave the path for more trauma. Often, these unfortunate patterns are unconscious, but they can still be incredibly damaging.
For example, a child who grows up in extreme poverty may be more likely to witness crime, violence, and other adverse events. Or, a victim of domestic violence may believe they somehow "deserved" the abuse, placing them at a greater risk to repeat this dynamic in subsequent relationships.
Compounded trauma can make coping even more challenging. People in these situations often struggle with feeling helpless, afraid, or detached from their circumstances altogether. Furthermore, based on these experiences, they might dismiss the notion that things will ever get better.
Final Thoughts on the Impacts of Trauma
Coping with trauma isn't easy. That's especially true if your trauma has significantly affected your mental health. However, you can learn to overcome your symptoms and bolster your sense of self-esteem and resilience.
No matter how the impacts of trauma have affected your life, there is hope. Remember that a supportive community can help you feel connected and motivated during this time.
At The Mental Health House, we are here for you or your loved ones. We can give you the support and skills you need to recover. Contact us today to learn more.