Have you ever had a traumatic experience before? While most of us may be quick to say no, traumatic experiences are actually much more common than you think. That’s because trauma is more than just life-or-death situations. Aside from all the accidents and natural disasters we see on the news, trauma can come from experiences of violence, bullying, assault, or abuse (be it physical or emotional). The suicide of a loved one can also be considered as a traumatic event, as well as their neglect or abandonment, especially if it’s sudden.
Trauma can be a very difficult thing to deal with, because it makes us feel overwhelmed and helpless. But instead of processing our emotions over time and seeking professional help as we should, some people never heal from the psychological scars of their trauma because they’re too afraid to confront it. They wrongly believe that it’s easier to just deny their feelings and act like they’re okay because they fail to realize just how harmful internalized trauma can be.
With that said, here are 7 things unhealed trauma makes us do:
1. Blame ourselves
When we ignore the impact of something devastating that happened to us, it tends to eat away at us and rob us of our peace of mind (Ashe, 2016). Some people can’t help but fixate on their memories of the trauma and blame themselves for what happened, thinking “It’s all my fault!” or “If only I had known this or done that, then maybe it wouldn’t have happened.” We are overcome with feelings of guilt, shame, and regret for how it all went down and wish, more than anything, that we could take it all back or do some things differently. And no matter how much everyone tries to console us or reassure us that it’s not our fault, we can’t help but feel like it is.
2. Repress our feelings
A lot of trauma victims (such as survivors of abuse, assault, or natural calamities) tend to become emotionally numb for a while to help them deal with the difficult situations they’ve been through. Following a traumatic event, most people tend to feel vulnerable, afraid, ashamed, confused, violated, or even hopeless, and it can all be a lot to process. So when we’re not ready to confront our feelings yet, we often end up burying them instead. We deny that anything is wrong and act like we’re perfectly fine because we’re too overwhelmed with emotions we don’t know how to deal with (Shapiro, 2015). Think you might be numbing your feelings to avoid your trauma? Read our article “7 Signs You’re Emotionally Repressed” to learn more.
3. Disrupt our daily routine
According to the American Psychological Association (2015), one of the earliest signs of trauma is the experience of intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and vivid nightmares. Simply put, this means that most people who have ever experienced a traumatic event can’t stop thinking about it, no matter how much they don’t want to. The trauma can be so distressing that it disrupts not only their eating and sleeping habits, but their daily routine as well.
For example, someone who has been in a car crash may never be able to get inside a car and drive ever again because of the overwhelming fear and anxiety it may evoke. Similarly, people whose homes have just been broken into usually move out in a few days because of how unsafe the experience has made them feel. Because as long as you let your trauma go unaddressed, you will never get over the fear that it may happen again.
4. Sabotage our relationships
Ever since the traumatic event happened – whether it was being with an abusive partner, getting bullied at school, or dealing with the death of a loved one – you’ve become more distant and isolated yourself from those around you. You stop hanging out with your friends, you lock yourself up in the room all day, and you barely talk to anyone else. You avoid people as much as you can and you shut out even your loved ones. You’re so afraid of getting hurt again that you’d rather detach yourself from everyone else than risk yourself getting close to someone. Does this sound familiar? Isolation and avoidance are common coping mechanisms to dealing with unhealed trauma, and it’s not unusual for trauma victims to develop a fear of intimacy or emotional attachment (Hansen, 2010). So if you’ve been having trouble letting people in lately or making a meaningful connection with someone, this may be the reason why.
5. Always assume the worst
A traumatic situation isn’t just something we can easily get over. Oftentimes it takes weeks, months, or even years of therapy and counselling depending on the severity of our trauma. So until you have truly healed from your painful past, some part of you will always assume the worst is going to happen. You don’t trust when good things happen to you or when the things you want come easily because you know from experience how badly or how quickly things can go wrong. You have difficulty trusting people and find it hard to forgive them for their mistakes because you’ve grown used to being mistreated and let down by them. And no matter how long it’s been or how many times people have proved you wrong, you just can’t shake these suspicions and negative beliefs the trauma has instilled in you (Stovall-McClough & Cloitre, 2006).
6. Feel anxious for no reason
Finally, but perhaps most importantly, one of the most devastating ways our unhealed trauma can hurt us is by attacking our mental health. The American Psychological Association (2013) reports that patients suffering from PTSD and other trauma-related mental disorders tend to become hypervigilant and easily triggered, especially in places or situations that remind them of the trauma. For example, a woman who was in an abusive relationship may feel uncomfortable or unsafe being alone with a man; whereas a child who comes from an abusive household may become fearful of any and all adults in their life. This anxiety is often accompanied by symptoms of sweating, trembling, agitation, muscle tension, and heart palpitations.
So, do you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here? Do you have any lingering feelings you still need to deal with from a traumatic event you’ve experienced? You can read more about this topic in our articles “9 Signs You Have Unhealed Trauma“,“8 Signs of Unhealed Childhood Trauma”, and “7 Kinds of Childhood Trauma.”
- Ashe, J. M. (2016). Self-mutilation, self-blame, and self-loathing among victims of emotional trauma. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 13(5), 135-142.
- Shapiro, R. D. (2015). Denial of threat and emotional response to impending painful stimulation. Clinical Psychology and Therapy, 30(4), 359.
- American Psychological Association (2015). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5th Edition. APA Publishing; Washington, DC.
- Hansen, D. E. (2010). Intimacy, loneliness, and social withdrawal as a result of emotional trauma. Journal of Behavioral Psychology, 19(22), 114-120.
- Stovall-McClough, K. C., & Cloitre, M. (2006). Unresolved attachment, PTSD, and dissociation in women with childhood abuse histories. Journal of consulting and clinical psychology, 74(2), 219.