What is Trauma?
Trauma is a significant, upsetting experience or event. If you can’t identify one single event that could have had a huge effect on you, know that trauma can also result from ongoing similar experiences or events. Signs that you’ve been traumatized can vary from typical symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, to a vague sense that your feelings of fear or anger seem exaggerated. Something to ask yourself is, does your level of fear or anger seem larger, more dramatic than seems appropriate to the situation.
Some typical signs of PTSD include:
Feeling stuck with recurring memories that don't fade
Not being able to go to sleep or stay asleep
Flashbacks to a traumatic time
Being in a constant state of high alert
Anxiety or fears triggered by similar events or sensory stimuli
Feeling jumpy, looking around for danger when there is none.
You may not experience exactly what I’ve listed above, but if you think your reactions to some events are out of proportion to the event, you may be reacting to a memory. You might not be consciously aware of everything your nervous system keeps locked inside, but you still react to it.
If, when a car honks its horn, or you hear a loud bang, or raised voices nearby, you feel more angry or afraid than you think you should there may be a reason for your response. It could be based on a past event. If you’re wondering why you always react dramatically to certain sounds, sights or smells, it’s worth looking into.
Clients say to me, “I don’t think I’ve been traumatized, I haven’t been in the military, I haven’t been abused or injured.” When we dig a little deeper, we find some repeated pattern in their environment that made their growing up years unpredictable and scary. Maybe Dad was usually a loving father, except when he drank. Then he’d become unreasonably angry and loud, and when drunk, he couldn’t hear his child asking him to stop yelling at Mom.
Signs and symptoms for this person may include an extreme reaction to others drinking, the smell of alcohol or loud voices.
A single, isolated event can result in trauma. Someone who grew up in a stable environment, who was recently in a car accident may suffer from PTSD.
For example, weeks or months after their physical injuries have healed, they haven’t driven, not since the accident. Maybe he’s been driving for years. But now, the idea of getting behind the wheel terrifies him. As a passenger he is jumpy, nervous, he’s sure the car he’s in is going to collide with the car in the next lane.
What to do:
If any of this sounds familiar, talk to a professional, get an assessment of what you experience. This is not to say that everyone has hidden trauma, or that everyone suffers because of repressed memories. But if you are made uncomfortable repeatedly i in similar situations, it’s worth checking out. There are treatments available that could bring you relief.
Jaminie Hilton is a registered clinical counsellor in private practise in Vancouver working with adults, couples, and children aged nine and up. Her focus is on guiding clients to connect with their strengths, and to gain tools to help them live with fewer fears and more happiness.
Jaminie has worked in a variety of settings including crisis centres, drug and alcohol programs, and Family Services in Vancouver. She has taught personal development classes and facilitated hundreds of groups.