5 Signs You Have Trauma, But Don’t Realize It

Trauma is a very personal experience. Perhaps other people might undergo the same situation as you, but they are not as affected by it. Even after the traumatic incident has passed, trauma often clings onto you, it replays itself in your head, sometimes getting so noisy that you can barely hear yourself thinking. 

An event that leads to physical, emotional, spiritual, and psychological impairment can be regarded as a trauma. Consequently, the person affected will feel numb, immensely fearful, disconnected, and helpless; having to face the dangerous world (Cafasso & Boland, 2021). 

The causes of trauma include: 

a. One-time events: Physical pain or injury (eg severe car accident), witnessing a death, rape, violent attack, particularly if it was unpredicted or happened in childhood

b. Ongoing, relentless stress: Struggling with a fatal illness, living in a neighbourhood plagued by crime, or encountering traumatic events that happen repeatedly, such as bullying, domestic violence, or childhood neglect

c. Commonly overlooked causes: Surgery (in the first 3 years of life), unexpected death of a loved one, the separation with a significant other, or an embarrassing event, particularly if someone was purposefully heartless. 

So, Psych2goers, let’s all take a look at the signs that you have trauma, shall we? 

  1. You are overwhelmed and become passive in the face of trauma 

You are a college student and it is the time of the pandemic. You try to minimize your interaction with your friends, and your classes are held online, and you order food delivery all the time. You sit for the examination, but you obtain a less satisfactory result, and your scholarship has to be revoked. You come from a middle income family and it is impossible for your father to pay for the tuition fee. Then, it is the time for the semester break, but the government recently announces the closure of the state border, so you are unable to go back home. Then you receive a phone call from your mother stating that your father is currently admitted and intubated in the ICU due to Covid-19 infection. Suddenly you feel helpless and overwhelmed. “This is out of my control. Why does this happen all of the sudden?”, you wonder. 

Psych2goers, when you are overwhelmed and come to believe that you are in a helpless situation and unable to control or change the situation, after experiencing a stressful situation repeatedly, you are having what psychologists described as learned helplessness. This eventually can result in heightened feelings of stress and depression which is associated with traumatic events. (Leonard & Legg, 2019). 

The American Psychological Association states that learned helplessness happens when a person continuously undergoes unmanageable and stressful situations, then refuses to exert control or change the situation when opportunities for change are possible. 

2. You have flashbacks

2 months ago, there was an earthquake in your town, which destroyed your school. You are among one of the few who are able to survive the disaster. Unfortunately, you lost your best friend due to the disaster. One day, your mother brings you to a cinema to watch a movie, and before the movie starts, an ad is playing on the screen. It shows a scene of an earthquake. Suddenly, you found yourself replaying the tragic event over and over again in your head. You have flashbacks, you remember how you felt the floor beneath you is shaking, how your teacher shouted to the students to take cover under the tables, how you held your friend’s hand while darting under the table. 

Flashbacks are illustrated as “memories gone wild” in a spellbinding book, “The Evil Hours: A Biography of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”, written by David J. Morris. It leads to a paralyzing disconnection from self and an agonizing sense of loss of control over one’s mind (Zender, 2018). 

Perhaps you wonder, how can flashbacks transport you back to the traumatic event almost immediately? Memory engages multiple parts of your brain, but basically the crucial players are:

a. Amygdala: Linked to emotional memory, encodes memories of previous peril that you have gone through so that you realize and respond to those threats if you encounter them again. 

b. Hippocampus: Behaves like the brain’s historian, catalogs all the separate details of an experience (who was there, where it happened, and what time of day it was) into one interconnected event you can consciously recall as a memory. 

However, this system works in a different way when you experience a trauma. When encountering a dangerous situation, your body’s built in fight-or-flight mechanism reigns supreme, causing overactivation of your amygdala and suppression of hippocampus. Consequently, there is a disorganization in your memory (Maynard & Snyder, 2020). 

3. You often “space out”

Psych2goers, have you ever spaced out for a tad bit too long while reading a novel, and suddenly you realize you are on the same page for almost 15 minutes? 

Yes, it’s definitely a normal occurrence to zone out from time to time, especially when you are feeling disinterested or stressed. Apart from that, it is also a common thing to space out when you have to deal with a trauma or heartbreaking event in your life. Spacing out is regarded as the milder form of dissociation (Legg & Raypole, 2020). 

When you zone out, you go into default mode and are unable to sustain attention for a prolonged period of time (Esterman et al., 2013). 

4. You overreact or respond inappropriately 

“It is not our stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.” —Dr. Hans Selye

You are driving back home after a long tiring day at work. All of a sudden, a car cuts you off, and you honk at the car repeatedly, you try to cut the car back, open your window and stick a middle finger to the driver. 

Have you ever found yourself overreacting to a small problem? You realize that you get excessively upset and defensive over little things and you respond to a problem much more than what is necessary (Cohen, 2018). 

Indeed, it is normal for an individual to experience a spectrum of emotions such as anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear. However, when you found yourself responding excessively and inappropriately to a small stuff, you may be experiencing trauma symptoms. 

5. You feel ashamed 

“I should be over this by now.” 

“Why can’t I just let it go?”

“Other people have had it much worse than me. I should be fine by now.” 

Psych2goers, have you ever experienced a moment whereby you feel ashamed of yourself. You have negative feelings about yourself and feel worthless. You compare yourself with another person who is experiencing a worse problem than you but they are still able to face it calmly, and you wonder, why can’t you deal with your problem like they do. When you feel ashamed of yourself and repeatedly have these kinds of negative thoughts, there is a high chance that you have unresolved trauma. 

It is important to distinguish shame from guilt. Shame is when you have a negative judgment on yourself and label yourself as useless, worthless, bad, and weak. Guilt happens when you judge your action or behaviour as unfavourable, but as a person, you still feel valued internally. Guilt can motivate you to make amends and apologize, whereas shame may cause you to get involved in self-punishment through deliberate self-harm or isolate yourself from others (Tull & Block, 2020). 

Final thoughts

If you are experiencing the signs stated above, it is a clear indication that you have been ignoring important emotions and you need to process your unresolved trauma. Therefore, try to seek out help from licensed mental health providers so that you are able to find ways to learn about how to not minimize the trauma but to accept and process it accordingly. 


American Psychological Association. (n.d.). Apa dictionary of psychology. American Psychological Association. https://dictionary.apa.org/learned-helplessness.

Cafasso, J., &; Boland, M. (2021, April 14). Traumatic events. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/traumatic-events.

Cohen, I. S. (2018, August 14). How to stop overreacting to the small stuff. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-emotional-meter/201808/how-stop-overreacting-the-small-stuff.

Esterman, M., Noonan, S. K., Rosenberg, M., & DeGutis, J. (2012, August 31). In the zone or zoning out? tracking behavioral and neural fluctuations during sustained attention. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/cercor/article/23/11/2712/303412.

Legg, T. J., &; Leonard, J. (2019, May 31). Learned helplessness: Examples, symptoms, and treatment. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325355.

Maynard, E., &; Snyder, C. (2020, February 13). Correlation between structures of the brain function and PTSD. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-exactly-does-ptsd-do-to-the-brain-2797210.

Raypole, C., &; Legg, T. J. (2020, February 3). Zoning out: Why it happens and how to stop. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/zoning-out.

Robinson, L. (2021, July 15). Emotional and psychological trauma. HelpGuide.org. https://www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/coping-with-emotional-and-psychological-trauma.htm.

Tull, M., &; Block, D. B. (2020, September 28). The interesting relationship between PTSD and shame. Verywell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/ptsd-and-shame-2797529.

Zender, J. F. (2018, December 21). Understanding and managing flashbacks. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-new-normal/201812/understanding-and-managing-flashbacks.

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