Trauma affects even the most resilient among us and can include anything from isolated incidents, such as surviving an active shooter in a public location or narcissistic abuse in an intimate relationship, to severe and prolonged abuse or neglect occurring in childhood.
Statistics suggest a lifetime estimate of approximately 6.8% for PTSD diagnosis, which is a small portion relative to those who experience trauma. Thus, on average, approximately 7 out of 100 people will go on to develop symptoms associated with PTSD after experiencing a significant traumatic event, with an average estimate of 7.5 million to 8 million people per year developing the disorder.
The effects of post-traumatic stress can be lifelong, chronic, and highly variable. Children who are abused or neglected may develop symptoms of PTSD or cPTSD, compromising their ability to function as independent adults; others may not develop any symptoms or milder symptoms. Issues with self-worth, self-love, feelings of uselessness, and suicidal ideation are commonly reported in those with PTSD or cPTSD. Those who experience abuse in childhood are more susceptible to being re-traumatized later in life with unhealthy adult relationships. PTSD often includes both short-term effects immediately following a traumatic event and more chronic, long-term effects.
Whether someone will go on to develop PTSD or cPTSD following trauma is influenced by many factors, which may include: individual resiliency, personality, prior history of trauma, severity/intensity of the trauma (i.e. a one-time isolated event versus chronic or long-term abuse), duration of the traumatic event(s), availability of an emotional support system, and other factors such as environmental contingencies (drugs/alcohol, unstable or unsafe living conditions).
Short-term or immediate effects may include:
Long-term effects are more variable and may include:
- Self-sabotaging behavior
- Fear of intimacy
- Issues with body image
- Issues with self-esteem and self-worth
- Panic attacks
- Skin disorders (chronic rashes, hives, or allergies)
- Emotional instability
- Sleep disorders/nightmares
- Anxiety or social phobias
- Drug/alcohol dependency or other self-medicating behaviors
- Auto-immune disorders
- Heightened arousal
- Memory issues
- Loss of trust in others
- Overall body aches/pain
- Repetition of generational trauma
- Fear of being alone
- Emotionally or sexually manipulative intimate relationships
- Gastrointestinal disorders
Recovering and Thriving
The most common treatment options for significant symptoms of PTSD or cPTSD often include medication, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and therapy. If symptoms are impacting your relationships or your ability to function in your life, it is important that you seek help in moving past the trauma and its effects to help you thrive once again. Living with the symptoms of PTSD or cPTSD can be debilitating, impact your relationships, and negatively affect your life.
Other things to consider for healing may include:
Eating a healthy diet. Making sure you are getting enough whole grains, fruits, and vegetables to help foster a healthy immune system, which may help minimize or reduce gastrointestinal or auto-immune problems.
Boundaries. Healing requires establishing boundaries, whether it is eliminating unhealthy relationships or limiting how often you choose to socialize with your circle of friends and family. Those who care about your well-being will understand if you need to take some time alone for yourself.
Engage in journaling. Jotting down your thoughts and feelings can be a great way to help better understand the connections between emotions, behavior, and environment while helping provide insight and personal awareness into your healing process.
Self-awareness. Awareness is important for understanding how you are feeling throughout your day and its impact on your behavior, your thoughts, and your emotions. A journal may be handy for becoming more aligned with thoughts and feelings as they are being experienced, or with certain environments or activities that can cause emotional flashbacks.
Spend time in nature. Reconnecting with the simplicity of nature is very healing and therapeutic for many. Try a safe jog or hike as a calming strategy or to help improve mood, emotions, and thoughts.
Disconnect. This may include disconnecting from people, places, situations, or technology while reconnecting with yourself and your own emotional needs. Limiting social media or news, or skipping noisy or crowded places, may be beneficial to you during your healing journey.