Trauma is an important topic that affects the lives of millions of Americans. Trauma is the result of an overwhelming stress that exceeds one’s ability to cope, or to integrate and manage the emotions involved with that experience. Psychologists are learning more and more about trauma and how it affects a person’s ability to function, relate, feel, and think on a daily basis. Neurobiologists are exploring the effects of trauma on the brain as well as practices and techniques that can reverse the harmful effects of trauma. Still, there are many misconceptions. This piece explores and attempts to eliminate some of the common misconceptions that surround trauma and trauma treatment.
1. People cannot heal from trauma.
Many factors contribute to healing from a traumatic event, but recovery is possible if a person has the support, willingness, and protective factors (such as a healthy and well-boundaried support system, financial stability, and positive coping skills), they can reclaim their lives and gain a sense of safety and joy.
2. Nothing good occurs as a result of a trauma.
Research on post-traumatic growth shows that up to 90 percent of trauma survivors report that, over time, they experience renewed vitality, growth in their capacity for empathy, and increased emotional maturity. These positive experiences occur not despite their trauma, but because of the recovery they achieve following the traumatic experience.
3. If a trauma is not experienced personally or directly, then it isn’t really trauma.
Each individual’s experience of trauma is unique. The individual feels they cannot control or cope with what’s happening to them. Vicarious trauma occurs when an individual experiences indirect exposure to a traumatic event through first-hand account or narrative of that event. Additionally, people who have a significant relationship with a survivor of trauma may come to experience secondary traumatization.
4. Trauma only occurs during a life-threatening event.
Trauma occurs whenever a child or adult experiences or observes something that causes great emotional, psychological, or physical distress.
5. Trauma and PTSD are the same thing.
Trauma, itself, is not a disorder. Some trauma sufferers develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a clinically-diagnosed condition that affects some individuals who have experienced or witnessed a trauma.
6. If you’re strong, you can recover from trauma on your own.
Though inner strength, resilience, faith, and external support contribute to recovery from trauma, many individuals who have suffered trauma require therapeutic intervention and trauma treatment in order to finally find balance. Some live with the effects of trauma for long periods of time but, at some point, the sensory system can overload. This strain can manifest serious physical, emotional, and psychological conditions.
7. There isn’t any real trauma treatment.
Treatment for trauma and PTSD is available and effective. A comprehensive therapeutic approach includes cognitive behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, biofeedback, exercise, holistic modalities, nutritional counseling, and, sometimes, medication management.
8. Trauma doesn’t affect the brain.
Trauma can change the brain in profound ways. During a traumatic event, the brain’s amygdala, anterior cingulate cortex, and the prefrontal cortex engage to attempt to rationalize, identify threats, and determine actions that are needed to stay safe. Long after the event, sensory triggers can recreate these responses in the brain and cause great distress, even when the sufferer isn’t aware of the cause.
9. Trauma only affects veterans.
Nearly half of the population will experience some form of trauma event in their lifetime. Reactions to trauma vary, and not everyone will develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
10. PTSD is an emotional problem. It doesn’t create mental or physical health problems.
Untreated, trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder put the survivor at risk for physical conditions such as heart disease, stroke, ulcers, and digestive disorders. Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, eating disorders, and suicidal ideation are also very common. Although isolated treatment for these conditions may provide improvement, untreated trauma, as the root cause, may prevent complete healing and perpetuate relapses.
11. Alcohol or drug abuse isn’t related to trauma.
When a parent or primary caregiver struggles with substance abuse, everyone suffers. Abuse of alcohol, prescription drugs, and illicit drugs hinder the caregiver’s discretion. Lack of judgment and altered motivations can lead to neglect, emotional or physical abuse, and other traumatic events to children, partners, and other loved ones. Survivors of trauma may also use alcohol and/or drugs to cope with feelings of stress and overwhelm.
12. Anything difficult is traumatic.
Most dictionaries define trauma as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience, but this may be too broad a description. The American Psychiatric Association defines traumatic events as those in which a person witnesses or experiences an event that threatens physical, emotional, sexual, or other injury to them self or others, causing profound fear, helplessness, or dread.
13. People with PTSD are unstable or dangerous.
This is an unfortunate, contrary assumption. Millions of people suffer from trauma and PTSD, and rarely is the result of their struggle aggression or violence. Trauma and PTSD lead to many conditions that prevent personal growth, goals, happiness, and health for the trauma sufferer, but much of this suffering goes unseen or is unknown or misunderstood by those around them.
14. Life after trauma is hopeless.
Suffering from trauma need not be a life sentence. Application of the tools and coping mechanisms learned and adopted in treatment can deliver the survivor from deep emotional pain, physical conditions perpetuated by distress, and unbalanced mood. With treatment, sufferers can find healing, renewed joy, confidence, hope, integration, and real recovery.
There are many things to learn and understand about trauma, trauma treatment, and the recovery path to healing from traumatic events. We invite and encourage anyone who has experienced a trauma or is in a relationship with someone who has experienced trauma to research its effects. An increased sense of awareness and understanding can aid the healing process. At Haven Hills, we support our clients through education, compassion, and trauma-informed therapeutic interventions that support growth and healing.
Struggling with trauma? Contact us today and see how our trauma treatment specialists can help. We are here for you.