It’s commonly been said that hardships can change us for the better, and the same is certainly true for trauma. Healing from trauma, especially the psychological and emotional kind, can lead to a lot of positive growth, self-awareness, and increased resilience. But of course, it can also impact us in a lot of negative ways we may not even be aware of.
While the American Psychological Association (2013) defines trauma as life-threatening experiences, trauma is about more than just finding yourself in seriously dangerous life-or-death situations. It can also come from the experiences of loss or psychological and emotional abuse. 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. Simply put, a traumatic experience can refer to any situation that evokes an intense, overwhelming, and long-lasting sense of fear, anxiety, and stress.
And if left unresolved, this trauma can manifest in a lot of negative cognitive, behavioral, or even physiological ways. With that said, here are 7 signs that you’re not a bad person, it’s your trauma:
1. You’re always looking for the first sign of trouble.
Has anyone ever told you that you’re too much of a negative thinker? Are you usually the first to give up when things get tough? Do you find it difficult to forgive and forget when someone else wrongs you? If you said yes to any of these things, don’t be so quick to blame yourself. These are actually all common responses to trauma. There are even studies that show how trauma makes it more difficult for us to be optimistic, because experience has taught us to always keep an eye out for the first sign of trouble (Bower & Sivers, 1998).
2. You have a hard time trusting others.
Similar to what we talked about earlier, a lot of trauma victims also struggle to trust and get close to others, even their loved ones. Trauma makes them more emotionally distant and closed off, and more suspicious of everyone’s motives and intentions. They tend to overthink and hyperfixate every little thing someone else says or does. Because of this, they also have a hard time asking for help from others or opening up to them about their true feelings (Hansen, 2010).
3. You socially withdraw sometimes.
One of the most telltale warning signs that someone is still struggling with their trauma is if it starts to affect their interpersonal relationships and makes them socially withdraw at times (Amstadter & Vernon, 2008). Have you found yourself always declining invitations or canceling at the last minute? Do you never feel like spending time with your loved ones anymore or keeping in touch with them? Would you rather just be by yourself doing nothing even though it doesn’t make you happy? Don’t beat yourself up for becoming more socially withdrawn and losing interest in our hobbies and relationships — it’s probably an unfortunate effect of your trauma.
4. You sabotage your own relationships.
Have you ever found yourself getting close to someone and growing to love them — be it romantically or platonically — only to find that it makes you feel scared, unsettled, or uncomfortable? Do you ever feel compelled to just run away or sabotage your own relationships, especially when things are going well? Although you may not be doing it consciously, you’ve likely internalized your past traumatic experiences (especially those that involve other people) so that you now have an expectation that every relationship of yours from now on is doomed to fail. That’s why you self-sabotage (Hansen, 2010).
5. You have unhealthy coping mechanisms.
When people are struggling mentally and emotionally and don’t know how to deal with it, it can be easy to feel overwhelmed and turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms instead. Some people start binge drinking and partying, while others turn to gambling or overspending. Others might oversleep to avoid their problems, or overeat to make themselves feel better. Some even resort to self-harm, self-neglect, or putting themselves in danger. Whatever the unhealthy coping mechanism might be, the bottom line is: it’s not you, it’s your trauma.
6. You’re emotionally repressed and distant.
Following a traumatic event, most people tend to feel vulnerable, afraid, ashamed, confused, violated, or even hopeless, so when we’re not ready to confront our feelings yet, we often end up burying them instead. But once you start, it can be hard to stop, especially when you haven’t fully dealt with or processed your trauma. So if you noticed you’ve become more emotionally repressed and distant ever since the trauma, this is probably why (Amstadter & Vernon, 2008).
7. You can’t control your emotions
Another sign that someone is still struggling with the emotional and mental fall out of their trauma is if they can’t control their emotions. The opposite to our earlier point, some people may feel too emotionally overwhelmed to turn off their feelings, and thus, they will often be angry, irritable, and have frequent mood swings and temper tantrums. They might cry a lot more than they used to, or develop a bad habit of taking their frustrations out on those around them. Either way, these are all clear signs of lingering psychological trauma (Amstadter & Vernon, 2008). So before you blame yourself, take the time to heal and understand first. Show yourself some compassion before you call yourself a bad person.
And if you relate to any of the things we’ve mentioned here and if you still have unhealed trauma that’s hurting you even now, please do not hesitate to reach out to a mental healthcare professional today and get help.
And if you’re interested in learning more about this topic, here’s what you should read next: 8 Signs Your Unhealed Trauma is Affecting Your Relationships, 6 Things Unhealed Trauma Makes Us Do, and How Your Trauma Explains Your Coping Mechanisms.
- American Psychological Association (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Ed). Washington, DC; APA Publishing.
- Bower, G. H., & Sivers, H. (1998). Cognitive impact of traumatic events. Development and psychopathology, 10(4), 625-653.
- Amstadter, A. B., & Vernon, L. L. (2008). Emotional reactions during and after trauma: A comparison of trauma types. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 16(4), 391-408.
- Hansen, D. E. (2010). Intimacy, loneliness, and social withdrawal as a result of emotional trauma. Journal of Behavioral Psychology, 19(22), 114-120.
- Herman, J. L. (1998). Recovery from psychological trauma. Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 52(S1), S98-S103.