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Rebecca Stegmann, MA, LAC

Lately it seems like everyone is talking about trauma. The American Psychological Association defines trauma as “an emotional response to a terrible event” such as interpersonal violence, natural disasters, and car accidents. Posttraumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a clinically recognized emotional response to a trauma that is characterized by symptoms of re-experiencing, hyperarousal, alterations in cognitions and moods, and avoidance and numbing (APA, 2022).

We’ve all experienced some form of trauma in our lives, and our bodies and brains all react in unique ways. Sometimes symptoms are obvious and distressing, like nightmares; others are more insidious. These ‘quiet’ symptoms are often related to identity, relationships, dissociation, and memory.

Identity – Trauma can impact our sense of ourselves and our place in the world. Unexpected traumas can destabilize our sense of safety and make us feel uncertain about how to proceed in life. Experiencing abuse can result in low self-confidence, feelings of shame, and ‘people-pleasing’ tendencies. Further, dealing with low self-esteem or feeling out-of-control can lead to poor body image and eating disorders.

Relationships – Interpersonal violence can drastically disrupt our sense of healthy relationships. After a traumatic experience, we might find it difficult to set safe boundaries, recognize ‘red flags’ in relationships, and communicate our needs appropriately.

Dissociation – As described by the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation, this is a form of emotional numbing that involves cutting off one’s conscious awareness of the world around them. This process can help protect us during trauma, but after the traumatic experience it can lead a person to feel confused and frightened by their lack of emotions. Survivors might also experience depersonalization (a sense of being “detached” from one’s body) and derealization (the sensation that the world or oneself is not “real”).

Memory – There is ample research on how trauma impacts memory. The National Association for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine suggests that trauma can disrupt semantic recall of distressing events, prevent proper encoding of traumatic experiences, and trigger emotional memories more readily.

Dealing with the aftermath of trauma can be scary, but you don’t have to go through this alone! If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, reach out to a professional who is trained in trauma-informed care for support.