The impact of unprocessed trauma

The impact of unprocessed trauma

What is trauma?
Trauma occurs when the psychological stress of a situation is greater than someone’s capacity to cope at that moment. Trauma can either be an acute single event, such as a traffic accident or a sexual assault. Or it can be sustained chronic stress such as war or childhood abuse. As trauma always takes into account the individual’s capacity to cope, different events are traumatic to different individuals and individuals may feel traumatised by events at one time in their life and then not at another. Sometimes people cope incredibly well with what may seem incredibly traumatic events, often due to their existing resilience and the support they received during and after the event. Alternatively, what may objectively seem like an everyday event may be traumatising to some people due to long-term stressors. Only the person who experienced the event is able to assess if the event was traumatic, although they may benefit from professional help to do so.

What is the impact of long-term trauma?
It is understood within research and clinical work that trauma that is experienced in childhood can have a long-lasting impact on an individual’s life. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) include childhood events such as abuse, neglect, bullying, loss / absence of a parent, parental separation, parental substance use or mental health problems. Research has found that people who experienced four or more ACEs are more likely to experience difficulties with more their mental and physical health in adulthood. For example, they are more like to have heart disease and type 2 diabetes in adulthood.

Psychologically, ACEs can also have an impact during adulthood on:

  • Relationships: children who experience loss or abuse are likely to develop an insecure attachment style. Attachment styles can change throughout life but we initially take our earliest relationships as a blueprint for others. If someone experiences caregivers as abandoning or abusive, it is very common for that child to grow into an adult who perceives others to be abandoning or abusive
  • Emotions: children whose emotions are not validated, but instead minimalised, ignored or punished may grow into adults who struggle to recognise or respond appropriately to their emotions

If you think you have experienced ACEs, you may benefit from professional support as an adult. It may be helpful to reflect on your childhood experiences and how they have affected you as an adult, before supporting you to move on from the trauma. Alternatively, some people prefer to focus on the here-and-now. A therapist can help you decide which type of therapy would be most helpful for you and offer you the therapy you need to process the trauma and meet your goals.

Equally, if you have experienced a single event trauma and are struggling with symptoms such as flashbacks, being on high-alert or you feel as though your everyday life has been affected by the event you may wish to speak to a therapist for further support. If you would like to discuss this further please call Dr Julie Hannan now on 07530 854530.