Trauma, Abuse and PTSD

The underlying thread to many mental health and addictions issues – such as depression, panic, anxiety, anger, relationship challenges, among others – is often trauma.

Trauma is what is left over in the nervous system as a result of a life threatening or emotionally overwhelming event. Trauma happens when our capacity to self-protect (fight or flight) or thaw out of the freeze / immobility state and discharge our built-up survival energy is blocked. The natural ebb and flow of our stress and relaxation response then becomes dysregulated. That means that you may tend to rev up very quickly and have difficulty coming down, or you flatline and disconnect and have difficulty picking yourself back up again, or you alternate between these extremes of chaos and rigidity, of hyper- and hypo-arousal, frequently outside of your Window of Tolerance.

We normally associate trauma or PTSD with major events like motor vehicle accidents, war, physical attacks and rape. However, other experiences that overwhelmed your nervous system may also have had an impact on you, your partner or your children. This includes birth trauma, early childhood abuse, neglect, ritual abuse, witnessing violence, abandonment, religion or shame-based abuse, cultural or colonial trauma, bullying, falls and concussions, surgeries, medical trauma, miscarriages, head injuries, natural disasters, etc. Many factors can play a role in how overwhelming an experience may be, including the failure of others to respond empathetically after an event, the level to which the event was unforeseen, and having one’s choice, voice or control taken away.

What was happening to your parents and extended family – including untreated trauma, addictions or mental health issues – may also have had an impact on your emotional and nervous system development from in the womb onwards, to the point where traumatic symptoms can develop.

Finally, your line of work may also be a source of trauma. First responders such as EMS / paramedics, fire fighters, police, dispatchers, and military personnel are professions that have a high incidence of trauma and PTSD. Professionals in the health care, helping, social services and mental health fields are at risk of compassion fatigue and vicarious trauma.

It’s not about what is wrong with you,
but about what has happened to you.


Emotional symptoms:

  • painful or frightening emotions
  • anxiety, worry or fear
  • low self-esteem and worthlessness
  • not feeling heard or having a “voice”
  • fragmented sense of self
  • dissociation
  • hypervigilance (on guard, easily startled)
  • spiraling or negative thoughts
  • flashbacks or memories
  • anger, violent dreams or images
  • unhealthy boundaries
  • on guard or easily triggered
  • disconnected from self and others
  • repeating patterns and past events
  • difficulty with social interactions and intimacy

Physical symptoms:

  • tremors, shaking
  • digestion issues and stomach pain
  • headaches and muscle pain
  • jaw and joint pain, throat issues
  • clenched or grinding teeth
  • sleep problems, exhaustion
  • hypertension, heart conditions
  • hyperventilation, asthma
  • chronic fatigue or pain
  • rashes or eczema
  • chemical sensitivities, allergies
  • memory or concentration issues

Management Strategies

Unhealthy coping strategies are sometimes our best attempt at finding control and managing the chaos inside. Addictions to alcohol and drugs are common, as are eating disorders, love or sex addiction, gambling, shopping, overworking and over-exercising. Dissociating, suicide attempts, playing small, staying in your head, isolating, self-harm, over-analyzing, blocking, avoiding or bracing against uncomfortable feelings or sensations, making certain body movements to try to reduce discomfort, and certain breathing strategies (especially over-breathing) can also be ways to temporarily manage what wants to be healed and released.

The Refuge offers body-oriented and attachment-focused therapies that are grounded in the latest neurobiological research, which aim to support you through the emotional and physical symptoms and to help you once again find safety within and a sense of aliveness. For more information about trauma therapy at The Refuge, click here, and for detailed descriptions of our therapeutic approaches, click here.

© 2013 –   The Refuge.