What Are the Causes of PTSD? How to Recover From Devastating Trauma
Updated: May 7
What are the causes of PTSD? How do we recover from trauma? Is PTSD something we just have to live with? This blog explores possible causes and symptoms of trauma and how we can recover.
What are the Causes of PTSD and Trauma Reactions?
There are many different causes of trauma. In fact, it is not even the event or circumstances themselves that creates trauma, but what our emotional experience was of that event. For example, I would find falling from a height highly traumatic, other people choose to throw themselves out of perfectly good aeroplanes for a laugh.
If you feel helpless or frightened, you are more likely to experience trauma. A great definition is that trauma is any experience that overwhelms your thoughts, emotions or body.
Different types of Trauma
Trauma could be a one off event such as a car crash or a life changing event or injury. Acute trauma is where we have an extremely disturbing experience where we think (even for just a moment) that we might die
Where there is prolonged or repeated emotional trauma, such as childhood abuse, domestic abuse, war or bullying. This is something that happens over time.
Primarily layers of chronic trauma that has been ongoing, where the trauma is instigated by the primary care giver or someone in a position of trust. We may have experienced abuse as a child, had abusive relationships as adults and so on. Complex trauma can have a real impact on our relationships.
Causes of Trauma
As we have already seen trauma is subjective. This doesn’t mean that it is “all in your head” It is just that trauma can affect different people in different ways. All trauma tends to have three things in common
The person wasn’t prepared for it
There was nothing the person could do to stop it from happening
It is usually unexpected
Experiencing something traumatic can profoundly affect our lives. It can change the way we think feel and react to life.
Here are some examples of things that can lead to psychological trauma:
Abuse This can be physical, emotional, verbal or sexual abuse and rape. Anything that leaves you feeling violated is abuse. The abuse may be a one-off event or something that continues over long periods of time. Experiencing violence in any form can be traumatic. If you are in an position where you are constantly in high stress environment. Experiencing trauma at a very young age is known as pre-verbal trauma. This type of trauma can affect your life even though you don’t remember what happened later in life. Often we don’t recognise verbal assaults as abuse. Nobody beat you so its not abuse right? Wrong! Verbal abuse can have a significant impact on your emotions.
Neglect as a child Childhood neglect is when a parent or caregiver didn’t take care of your emotional or physical needs as a child. This can include leaving you hungry, not helping you to stay clean or not getting you appropriate medical care. Emotional neglect is when your emotional needs weren’t met. Perhaps no one comforted you when you were afraid, or you felt unsafe most of the time. Trauma from childhood can have a huge effect on your relationships as an adult.
Grief Everyone will experience death at some point. A sudden or unexpected death doesn’t allow you time to prepare for the pain. The shock to your emotions can be overwhelming. Even with expected death the stress of a terminal illness can leave us questioning our belief systems and cause us to shut down our feelings.
Witnessing Violence Seeing abusive or violent behaviour can have a powerful impact even if the violence isn’t directed at you. Growing up in a home where there is violence increases the risk factor for mental health issues later in life.
Trauma as part of work Witnessing traumatic events as part of your job can be difficult. People in the medical profession or the blue light services often experience higher rates of PTSD, depression and suicide. That’s why I offer discounted rates to members of the NHS and the blue light professions.
Domestic Violence Experiencing violence in any form can be traumatic. If you are in an environment where you are constantly in a state of high stress or danger of harm you are likely to experience complex trauma. Physical and emotional abuse can lead to flashbacks. This is when you relive something from your past and it feels as if it is happening again, right now.
Natural disasters or War Natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes can cause trauma as well as events such as war and fighting.
Spiritual or religious abuse This kind of abuse has been in the news quite a bit lately. This type of abuse occurs when religion or a belief structure is used to manipulate you into a particular way of thinking or living. For example not being given correct medical care because God is going to heal you. The LGBTQ+ community has experienced this through conversion therapy or attempts to change someone’s sexual orientation.
Community violence This occurs all over the world, from gang violence, mass shootings or genocide. This type of trauma can leave you feeling, quite reasonably that the world is not a safe place to be.
Symptoms of Trauma
Experiencing trauma leaves a lasting mark. It impacts on how we view the world and on our relationships. Experiencing trauma, especially at a young age, can leave you at a higher risk for addiction, PTSD, depression and anxiety.
We have physical response to trauma. Our bodies go on high alert and look for any possible danger. The fight or flight response kicks in and we are ready to either run or defend ourselves. This can be an exhausting way to go through life.
Relationships with others may be difficult and we can have trouble regulating our emotions.
Physical or sexual abuse may leave us uncomfortable in our own skin and unable to find pleasure in intimacy.
Symptoms of trauma vary from person to person. It is common to suffer from depression symptoms and anxiety. Symptoms can last a few days or go on for years if treatment isn’t found. The longer trauma symptoms are left the more damage they can do so it is important to get some help
Some common symptoms of psychological trauma may include:
Anxiety Constantly feeling anxious, often with no apparent reason. Some people experience panic attacks. Relieving stress and anxiety can feel difficult.
Trouble sleeping It’s very common to have problems with getting to sleep or staying asleep after a traumatic experience.
Flashbacks Symptoms of PTSD often include flashbacks. Reliving the past trauma with such intensity that it feels like it is happening again.
Rage Feeling angry after trauma is to be expected.
Depression It is common to suffer from depression symptoms and anxiety. Many people feel depressed after a traumatic event. You can be left asking why this happened.
Self medication and or dependency Sometimes the pain from trauma can feel unbearable. In the short term medicating with booze or drugs can ease that pain and make life seem easier. This can lead to dependency and make matters worse in the long term.
Detachment. If the emotions brought up are overwhelming some people end up in a kind of emotional numbness and may appear cold or distant.
Graphic from healthyplace.com
When to get help
Whether you think your traumatic experience was minor or if it was life changing, you may well benefit from help from a counsellor. Get help as soon as you think you might need it. Putting it off won’t make the feelings go away!
Check if the counsellor you are considering has training in trauma focused therapy. Its important that the counsellor has had training so they don’t accidentally re-traumatise you and leave you feeling worse!
I practice evidence-based, Trauma Focused Therapy. This type of therapy is based on understanding the connection between a traumatic event, or series of events and how that can impact us now. This therapy allows you to process the trauma memories without being re-traumatised. It aims to help people regulate strong emotions and reduce the hypervigilance that is so common in trauma survivors.
If this (rather long) blog resonates with you, you would like any help with the issues discussed, please do get in touch. You can contact me via the contact page here.