Family Secrets

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Trauma

The psychological and emotional effects

Only people who have experienced a trauma know how it feels; it's a unique experience and very difficult to erase from the mind, lasting for years with great emotional intensity. Trauma can result from different types of circumstances, from people who have lived through a war, others who have been victims of violence or a tragedy, or also those who have witnessed an act that has terrorized them. The children also can be affected by trauma, leaving lifelong sequelae.

Depending on the type of trauma, the consequences can be emotional, behavioral, on a cognitive level as well, i.e. the ability to think and make decisions, or leave neurologic sequelae.

Emotionally, the person who lived a trauma may develop panic attacks, depression, lack of or excessive appetite, and trouble sleeping. It is quite possible to develop attention problems, memory and concentration, also affecting their ability to study and/or work, and quality of life. They may feel confused and have trouble organizing their thoughts. 

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For example, people who have experienced an earthquake, may be afraid of being alone, fearing that another earthquake will happen at any time and feel the ground shake when in fact nothing is happening. Not only are they more sensitive to what is happening around them, but they also have vivid memories that sometimes appear as if they were re-living the moment or nightmares. Your life can become a kind of "emotional earthquake." Similarly, other types of trauma produce similar symptoms. People who've been in an accident are fearful of another and are on alert when they are in similar situations. Those who have been injured by another person fear finding themselves with the person who assaulted them and seem to see that person's face in others who have similarities. 

A trauma doesn't necessarily develop when something happens. We are all likely to be traumatized by being spectators of a tragedy. For example, those who have witnessed a crime.

The person who has experienced a trauma may be re-traumatized by the circumstances following the trauma. For example, when the judicial system interrogates them again and again, or perhaps the defense lawyer seeks to discredit the allegations. It is also possible to be traumatized again by a family member, such as when the mother does not believe her son or daughter when they confess that they have been sexually molested.

There are also many people who have been traumatized and don't even know it. This is the case for those who have experienced domestic violence, and have been unable to overcome the fear and intimidation, to the point of being unable to form healthy relationships, either by avoiding intimacy or by recreating other abusive relationships and repeating the same story. This situation is unfortunate because they live their life in darkness, which can leave a trauma.

Research studies have shown that trauma can change the hormonal and neurological system by chemical changes produced by stress. It has also been shown that trauma can affect the hippocampus, a part of the brain that consolidates memory, leading to problems remembering information.

There are many ways to suppress a trauma, but avoiding talking about it not only perpetuates the symptoms, it also makes them less manageable. Those who believe that time erases everything, are only deceiving themselves. What happens in most cases is that the symptoms of a trauma come on suddenly and intensely in the least expected moments.

Telling the story can be difficult but brings relief. It is important to know who to tell the story to. Not anyone can listen and understand. Therefore, it is necessary to be very selective. 

Psychological therapies are the best option. A psychologist or therapist has the necessary training to not only listen but also help consolidate different techniques that allow for a better life and avoid negative consequences. You may find out about available services through the Victim Compensation Program in the State where you live.

Ana Nogales is a clinical psychologist and well-known media personality, columnist, speaker, and advocate for victims of domestic violence.

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