What's All The Talk About Trauma Response?
If you are a trauma survivor, a mental healthcare worker, or know someone who has experienced trauma, you have noticed the rise in trauma awareness, especially during the pandemic.
Data from YouGov.com finds that nearly a quarter (23%) of 18-to 24-year-olds say they’ve sought mental health counseling during the pandemic. This is a noticeable increase from April 2020, when 13% of adults under 25 reported that they had turned to a mental health professional during the COVID-19 crisis.
The last 2 years have brought critical paradigm shifts in our views on trauma. There has been increasing acknowledgment of trauma, post-traumatic stress, and the solutions that need to be taken to support those that have experienced it. Awareness has been influenced by musicians, actors, and popular personalities.
Lady Gaga created and expanded her Mental Health First Aid for teenagers in high schools across the country. Prince Harry joined BetterUp, which provides coaching and mental health services to businesses and individuals. And, in his memoir Over the Top, Van Ness describes his experiences with addiction, depression, trauma, and being HIV-positive.
Over the past 18 years, Google searches for “trauma” have steadily risen, peaking in 2021, according to Vox.com’s article How trauma became the word of the decade. These spotlights are important to the growing awareness of mental health and trauma but we must continue to educate ourselves, and others, as we push forward on destigmatization.
What Happens if We Don’t Know We Have Trauma or Leave Our Trauma Untreated?
When trauma remains untreated, signs, symptoms and responses may begin to appear.
Some recognizable symptoms following trauma are agitation, nervousness, anxiety, trouble concentrating, depression and headaches. There are many more, which you can explore on our previous blog, Signs and Symptoms.
Outside of the gaining an understanding of the signs of trauma symptoms, there has been a growing movement happening right now on TikTok where users are having tough conversations around trauma and information sharing with one another. With over 110.8M views on the hashtag #traumaresponse, more and more people who have unknowingly experienced trauma are recognizing their own personal symptoms and responses for the first time.
What most don’t know is that there can be a difference between a trauma symptom and a trauma response.
What is Trauma Response?
Trauma Response is the unconscious response style we can develop in the wake of untreated trauma that shifts our previous way of relating to others or our situations.
Trauma can change our personality. It’s response patterns reflect what trauma has taught us and how we apply these lessons to increase our feeling of being safe. However, trauma also changes our sense of identity and our relationships over time, and may themselves cause additional loss and further trauma in our lives.
What Can Trauma Responses Look Like?
Trauma can make us feel that our safest path is to work and live alone. We may feel like the only person we know we can rely on is ourselves and it can make us feel undeserving of connection with others. We can feel ashamed of who we have become and avoid social contact and interdependence for this reason as well.
Overworking ourselves can be an attempt to outrun our trauma. It is a distraction from our trauma symptoms. When we are not working, symptoms increase because we longer have the focus of work to distract our intrusive memories.
Cognitive changes are part of the trauma response, including memory and concentration loss. Think of unaddressed trauma as a “file” on your mental computer that slows the whole system down. While it is unaddressed, it is always running in the background. Then all of a sudden, it sends a “pop up” into your mental space – which impedes the ability to focus and remember things with clarity.
There may also be a conscious or unconscious suppression of disturbing memories. When we suppress one thing, we often suppress other memories as well since our memories often interlock in our memory network.
Apologizing constantly can be a behavior designed to “keep the peace” and “socially appease” someone else. If our trauma is interpersonal, this behavior can develop in response to an attempt to avoid dangerous interactions. The same can happen with People Pleasing (Fawning) and Over Explaining (Fawning) trauma responses.
Many trauma survivors have said for years that trauma shrinks their world. We may feel overwhelmed or unsafe in groups, quick to anger, misunderstood, or just uninterested in being around people.
Oversharing can be part of lacking boundaries when we have been violated in traumatic ways and can also be part of the anxious-ambivalent attachment style
Body dysmorphia and past trauma are only just beginning to be understood. Nevertheless, a growing body of research suggests that trauma is strongly associated with the development of BDD.
Approaching Trauma Treatment
Though many people have experienced or are now recognizing exposure to trauma, awareness surrounding trauma is growing, and that’s a good thing. Signs, symptoms and responses to trauma can come in many different forms. The more access we have to care, the better the chance of us finding relief when needed.
There are many highly recommended treatments for trauma. In recent years, the Stellate Ganglion Block (SGB) has emerged as a promising treatment option for symptoms of trauma. Stella founders Dr. Eugene Lipov and Dr. Shauna Springer recently published a study with other trauma experts that you can read more about here or learn more about SGB on our “How It Works” page.