traumatic experience

Getting rid of the effects of traumatic experiences

What is a traumatic experience?

What is trauma and why is it so important to pay enough attention to this topic in today's world? 

The word "trauma" comes from the Greek language and means "wound. In psychology, we understand it as a deeply distressing event that is often associated with an extreme threat to life or health. Consequently, it is an "abnormal" phenomenon, and can be understood when victims react with pronounced terror, intense fear, or helplessness. Any reaction to a traumatic event must initially be interpreted as a normal reaction to an abnormal event.

About half of all people in our society have experienced one or more such traumatic events at least once in their lives. Both adults and children can experience psychological trauma. Examples of traumatic events include serious traffic accidents, catastrophic events, industrial injuries, physical and sexual experiences of violence, or political violence such as torture and imprisonment. 

Such events can cause great stress and feelings of helplessness and horror. This can occur if someone has been affected by the event himself or if he - for example, as an eyewitness - witnesses other victims of the event.

Trauma, especially in childhood, becomes embedded in the soul relatively quickly. This is why it is here that neglect and maltreatment lead to more frequent trauma-related disorders. Serious negative experiences, especially during certain vulnerable phases (ages 2-4, 8-10, and puberty), can have serious long-term effects on the health of victims. 

Traumatized people often dare not talk about their experiences. Behind this is often the fear that they will not be taken seriously, that the story will not seem credible or that the person will simply be declared insane. Because of the desire to be as normal as possible in society, worries and difficulties related to traumatic events are often hidden for years. Many patients also fear that rubbing the wound, remembering and discussing their trauma can only make their condition worse. And they simply try to forget everything. Unfortunately often without success. Fortunately, this fear is unfounded. On the contrary, it has been proven that active mental return to the traumatic event breaks the vicious circle and can lead to considerable improvement.

What consequences of a traumatic experience can be observed?

As a rule, an acute stress reaction occurs immediately after a traumatic experience, which may well disappear on its own (usually after a month or two) or develop into what is called post-traumatic stress disorder, one of the most common psychological disorders after trauma. Other common secondary problems are depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders, sleep disorders, psychosomatic disorders. 

Some people try to reduce their symptoms by using alcohol or drugs, which can lead to addiction problems.

Psychology distinguishes the basic symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can be divided into four groups:

  1. Automatic and involuntary reliving of traumatic memories:

Events are re-experienced in the form of stressful inner images, noises or bodily sensations, or in nightmares. The quality of the experience may become so intense that contact with reality is briefly lost.

  • Avoidance:

In order to reduce re-experiencing and gain control over it, survivors try to avoid anything that may remind them of the events. Thoughts and feelings related to the trauma are often pushed aside and avoided. The same applies to situations, places and activities that may trigger memories.

  • Numbness of the senses:

This group of symptoms includes feelings of emotional numbness and dullness, followed by a sudden feeling of restlessness and sensitivity again due to memories. Loss of interest, withdrawal, feelings of alienation and separation from the world around are also characteristics that belong to this group.

  • Chronic overstimulation:

Feeling as if you are wary, closely observing your surroundings for danger signals and constantly exercising caution leads to a significant increase in jitteriness and often persistent overexcitement. The result is usually severe concentration problems, increased irritability, and sleep disturbances.

Regardless of the severity of the traumatic event, any survivor may develop these symptoms during their lifetime. When they occur, therapeutic support is necessary.

Ways to get rid of the effects of a traumatic experience

Psychology today offers effective treatment options for post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychotherapy is a first resort that incorporates various elements of therapy, such as comprehensive clinical picture instruction, relaxation training and self-management skills for emotional regulation, and confronting or dealing with trauma. The goal of treatment is to reduce the tension and heightened emotionality associated with flashbacks. During therapy, survivors must learn to recognize that they are experiencing "normal reactions to abnormal events.

Other treatment approaches focus more on adverse cognitions, especially guilt, which is often present and needs to be overcome. Antidepressants have also been shown to aid recovery. In childhood and adolescence, psychotherapeutic forms of treatment tailored to the appropriate developmental stage are used. Especially, but not only in childhood, preventive measures, i.e. support of dysfunctional families up to measures to prevent conflicts and violence, are of extreme importance.

Here are a few more tips that can help those who want to try to cope with a stressful reaction after a traumatic event on their own:

  • Move to a safe place, calm down, do what you can to calm down, rest, let the excitement subside;
  • Use healthy habits. Do anything that has helped you to calm down and relax before;
  • Talk about the injury! Talk about the incident with a few people you know and can trust.


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