Most of us have gone through something traumatic in our life before, regardless of whether we remember it or not. However, trauma rarely gets talked about enough. There are many different things that can lead to trauma. According to the American Psychological Association, “Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, assault, or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships, and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea.” Although these are some examples, there are more traumatic things that can happen, even minor ones, which might start triggering every time you see something similar.
There are two main types of trauma: acute and chronic. Acute trauma is a type of trauma that stems from a specific time or event. It is not something that occurs normally, and can often lead to Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses. According to Khiron Clinics, “The event itself [is] so overwhelming that our autonomic nervous system – the branch of the nervous system responsible for survival – became stuck in its threat response. The overwhelming threat, which [can be] anything from an instance of sexual abuse to a natural disaster, [elicits] a threat response in the body.” This response, called the autonomic nervous system, or ANS, can often leave us in a deep physiological state, which goes away for most people, but sometimes it comes back as triggers and makes the brain feel as if the threat is still around.
The second type of trauma is chronic trauma. According to Khiron Clinics, chronic trauma refers to trauma that has occurred following a series of events (unlike acute trauma, which refers to trauma following a single event). These events have happened multiple times. However, just like acute trauma, survivors of chronic trauma often experience anxiety, depression, sadness, confusion and other maladaptive behaviors. Sometimes the affected may engage in activities that are self-destructive, including high-risk behavior (reckless driving, gambling, etc.), sexual avoidance and substance abuse. With this type of trauma, signals in our body tell our brain to get ready for flight or fight. When the threat is not something we can fight, it uses another type of response in which the body freezes. For lots of victims of chronic trauma, freezing is often considered a threat response.
While these traumas are more complex than can be explained on paper, there are many different things that can be done to help someone who has gone through a traumatic event regardless of what type of trauma it is. One of the best things you can do to support someone who has gone through trauma is to simply ask them what the best thing you can do for them is. Often the best and most you can do is just get them help and listen to what they have to say. Sometimes when dealing with someone who has gone through trauma, they may get irritated or distressed easily, leading to them saying hurtful things. In this situation, do not take what they say to heart. And when they do open up to you, let them know that they are not alone and not being judged by you or anyone else they chose to open up to and that their reactions are completely normal. It is important to make sure the victim feels that they are supported and cared for, or it may pull them deeper into their PTSD.
However, there are things that are out of your reach when it comes down to helping a person who has PTSD. Sometimes the best thing you can do for them is to get them involved in different things, while still getting the attention they need to fully heal from the event. Make sure you help them relax, let them find new things to do, and make sure they seek some professional help if it is something that is out of your reach. Some options for professional help include taking them to a doctor, support group, local community health center, counselor, psychologist or anyone with the experience to help them out and understand their pain. Regardless of all the help they can get, make sure you always support them and give them a listening ear. Trauma is something that isn’t easily dealt with, and they might need a lot of time to get over it.