The impact of emotional trauma may seem invisible, but it is obvious for those who treat addiction disorders in people who have struggled for years with the pain of past trauma.
Physical abuse may leave scars, but emotional neglect and abuse can leave psychological scars and pain that are difficult to heal without getting down to the root causes. Often there is trauma overlaid by addiction and maybe mental health conditions. This makes it important to find a multidisciplinary approach to healing in recovery. All facets of a person’s journey must be uncovered if they are to really look at how and why they ended up where they are, especially if they expect to find hope and healing.
The Nature of Trauma
Trauma is defined in many ways by different experiences people have. It is somewhat subjective. Individual trauma can come from one event, or a series of events, where harm has occurred and the person experiences lasting impact on their well-being. Trauma is usually not one event, it is a series of events but it can stem from one larger traumatic event. Trauma can start in childhood, come from divorce, loss of a job, breakups of relationships, or myriad other ways. It can result from growing up in a home with addicted parents. It may also come from people who are working hard to bury feelings and are not able to discuss how they feel. Trauma is non-discriminatory. Many people experience some type of trauma but not everyone experiences the effects in the same way.
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs) conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the CDC in the 90s looked at ways in which people experience trauma after exposure to abuse, neglect, or traumatic events. There are many ways in which this happens, including sexual abuse, witnessing harm or abuse to others, divorce, and even incarceration of family members, including parents.
The ACEs are strongly correlated to the development and prevalence of health issues later in life. This also includes addictive behaviors. ACEs are an example of complex issues that take a while to look at in terms of behavioral challenges that result from them. When children are exposed to chronic stressful events, their development changes. Their neurons don’t fire the same, the brain does not grow in the same way, and cognitive functioning is impaired.
This is one explanation for why brains that experience trauma often expresses the challenge of mental health disorders, anxiety, and other challenges.
The Trauma Response
The mind and bodywork together when someone has a response to situations that happen in their life. This stress response causes the body to go into fight/flight/freeze mode when there is a risky situation. If the body and mind perceive a threat, these three ways can create a challenge for the person trying to function. This system only works really well in actual life or death scenarios. In daily life, it can create high cortisol, high adrenal function, and burn out a person’s system after a while.
Trauma responses impact a person’s physiology and exposure to trauma over long periods of time can create open doors for addictive behavior or mental health issues. The brain can actually be changed by trauma, as seen in scans of children who experience trauma in early childhood.
A trauma response impacts both the brain and body. It plays out in memories later in life. The brain plays key roles in emotional responses and how people make decisions. Changes in the amygdala are linked to the development of PTSD. Learning and memory are also impacted by trauma. With so many effects, it is no wonder people struggle with emotional trauma symptoms.
Connecting the Dots
Emotional trauma needs to be dealt with in recovery because people often struggle with it and only look at treating addiction, but not mental health, as well. Symptoms of someone suffering from trauma can be debilitating and life-changing. With the impact stress and traumatic responses have on the body, it is no surprise emotional and physical pain may lead to self-medicating, more pain, and additional challenges. Treatment of emotional trauma can help:
- Build awareness of all the ways trauma informs a person’s reactivity and responses to their environment
- Teaches them how addictive behaviors stem out of trauma
- Create a functional plan that lays out how to navigate trauma responses and triggers
- Connects people to resources and tools they need to live more fulfilling lives
Trauma-informed practices that are multidisciplinary in nature are going to be more successful for people with emotional trauma. Healing can take place when a person is able to get help from many different kinds of professionals ready to support their journey.