Negative events, especially if they are unexpected or repeated over a long period of time, can have a significant impact on your life. It could be caused by the ending of a relationship, or the experience of abuse within a relationship. Psychological trauma is a common response to such events, and can include exhaustion, anxiety, anger and ‘brain fog’. This may reflect the evolutionary perspective that people can remain hypervigilant following trauma as a means to avert further danger.
People suffering from trauma may experience:
> A feeling of fear: the world may no longer feel like a safe place because you just experienced an event that shows it to be dangerous or unpredictable. You might find it hard to trust people, or find you have anxiety attacks. Signs that you are experiencing fear can include tension in your jaw and shoulders, difficulty eating, tingling feelings, feelings of breathlessness, or just a sense that something bad is about to happen.
> Brain-fog: you might find it difficult to think straight, or even experience dissociation. Signs can include a feeling of unreality or disconnection with the world around you. You might also have difficulty thinking things through or making decisions that usually wouldn’t be a challenge. You may also experience physical symptoms associated with stress, such as a rapid heart beat, breathlessness, body tension, nausea.
> Physical symptoms, such as body tension, heart palpitations, breathlessness, nausea and sleep disturbances. These are all recognised symptoms of hypervigilance, which occur because you are more alert to possible danger having just experienced traumatic shock.
> Exhaustion, which can be constant or can come on suddenly and seemingly at random. You may also have difficulty sleeping.
> A change in behaviour – you may find that while you’re usually sociable or enjoy doing certain things, suddenly you feel the need to behave differently.
> Shifting emotions. You might feel empowered and determined one minute, then guilty or sad, angry or resentful the next.
> You feel the level of your response is disproportionate to the event. Especially after an abusive relationship, many past traumas can come to the fore leaving you with a sense of compounded trauma or grief. Trauma can make demands that outstrip an individual’s capacity to meet those demands, so if your coping mechanisms have been depleted by previous traumas, it may be that you have insufficient energy to cope further.
Recovering from trauma
The time it takes to recover from domestic abuse by being able to accept what has happened, integrate the trauma into your life and move forward and start a new chapter in your life varies from person to person, but it is possible. Here at Changing Pathways we offer a range of therapeutic and non-therapeutic support to facilitate this process.
Although dissociation can be a way to distance yourself from uncomfortable emotions, acceptance and integration of the feelings can help you move on from them more quickly, so it can be helpful to identify and accept your feelings as a normal response, rather than as something that needs to be fixed or avoided.
Mindfulness techniques can help to identify and accept difficult feelings, leading to lower levels of anxiety and fewer symptoms of dissociation. It can also be helpful to reframe the experience as having potential positive outcomes for yourself as an individual; many people who have experienced trauma report a sense of greater strength and resilience after the initial symptoms dissipate, for example.