by Karolyn Johnson, MA, LMFT
Trauma is a buzz word that is used frequently these days. It has a negative connotation for some, evokes empathy from others, but what we don’t often consider is the impact unresolved trauma has on our everyday life. Unfortunately, so many people have experienced something that made a deep impact on the way they think, act and feel, and have not yet processed that experience(s). While you may not think of those experiences as trauma, the suggestion is that trauma is a wide and varied category. In a nutshell, trauma is an event(s) that results in an emotional experience that outweighs a person’s perceived ability to cope. These events can make a lasting impact on our everyday functioning. Here are a few of the many ways unprocessed trauma can manifest in our lives:
1. Anxiety and Depression
Feelings of anxiety and depression are often associated with unprocessed trauma. A traumatic event impacts our limbic system, which impacts our ability to metabolize stress. Many get stuck in a “fight-or-flight” response, resulting in feeling on edge, anticipating when the next shoe will drop, frequently worrying about possible risks. Or feelings of sadness that linger and loom, lack of interest in things that used to inspire joy, and/or pulling away from people you love. These experiences can be linked to a traumatic event that one has not yet processed through and healed from.
2. Disordered Eating
Trauma is often associated with a feeling of lack of control. It is therefore not uncommon for those who have experienced trauma to seek a sense of control. One of the ways people attempt to create this is through food. Both men and women will use food rituals, go to great lengths to dictate what type of food they eat, how much and when, or restrict consumption altogether, as a way to feel like they have an avenue of influence in their life. The unfortunate reality is that when we invest in patterns or habits of disordered eating we end up creating a sense of rigidity, lack of freedom, and in turn a lack of control.
3. Substance Use
The connection between substance use and trauma is also common. Unprocessed trauma can greatly impact how we feel about ourselves and how we act. For instance, unprocessed trauma is linked to feelings of guilt or shame, low self-worth, and difficulty maintaining healthy boundaries. Substances are often used a coping mechanism to numb this emotional discomfort. Similar to disordered eating, the impact of coping with trauma through substances can increase feelings of guilt and shame, low self-worth, lack of control, etc., creating a harmful cycle.
Many of us have experienced trauma and have not had the opportunity or space to process the event(s). Unprocessed trauma can have a distinct impact on our everyday functioning. There are so many healthy and effective ways to process trauma. The hope is that we become better at spotting possible signs of unprocessed trauma, like anxiety, depression, disordered eating, and substance use, and seek support in the process of healing.
If you or a loved one are struggling with the effects of trauma, contact our trauma-informed specialists at Haven Hills Recovery. We specialize in creating safe spaces for those struggling with trauma and/or co-occurring disorders.