10 Warning Signs That You Could Be Suffering From The Effects of Unresolved Trauma

by Neseret on May 31, 2013

The effects of unresolved trauma can be devastating. It can affect our habits and outlook on life, leading to addictions and poor decision-making. It can take a toll on our family life and interpersonal relationships. It can trigger real physical pain, symptoms, and disease. And it can lead to a range of self destructive behaviors. ~ Peter A. Levine ~

When most people think about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)/ “trauma” they think about soldiers who have lived through war, refugees who have experienced devastating loss, and or victims of severe abuse. However things as simple as a visit to a dentist or a pap smear test can be traumatic events.

Trauma is what you say is traumatic for you.

No one can tell you how something makes you feel. This could be an event, a person, or a situation that leaves you feeling unease, uncomfortable, battered, violated, and or feeling completely out of control. You are the only person who can judge your experience.

Traumatic events have a common theme. There is often a sense of actual or perceived threat and the person feels they are unable to respond or cope in the situation. And of course afterwards the person feels traumatized and develops a set of physical and emotional symptoms.

Below you will find some of the most common signs and symptoms of unresolved trauma. Often trauma is misdiagnosed or missed completely. I believe trauma is the only real diagnosis and mental health and addictions issues are the effects of trauma.

Renowned traumatologist, John Briere, is said to have quipped that if Complex PTSD were ever given its due – that is, if the role of dysfunctional parenting in adult psychological disorders was ever fully recognized, the DSM (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by all mental health professionals) would shrink to the size of a thin pamphlet. It currently resembles a large dictionary. In my experience, many clients with Complex PTSD have been misdiagnosed with various anxiety and depressive disorders, as well as bipolar, narcissistic, codependent and borderline disorders. Further confusion arises in the case of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder), as well as obsessive/compulsive disorder, which is sometimes more accurately described as an excessive, fixated flight response to trauma. This is also true of ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and some dissociative disorders which are similarly excessive, fixated freeze responses to trauma. ~ Pete Walker, M.A, Psychotherapy ~

1. Flashbacks

Flashbacks are intrusive images that continue to play in your mind that are usually distressing. These images are often related to the traumatic event you experienced. They may be just bits and pieces of information and leave you wanting to know more. Both physical and emotional flashbacks can be very disturbing because you feel like you are back re-experiencing the traumatic event or situation.

2. Sleep Issues

This can range from not being able to fall asleep to inability to stay sleep. You could also be experiencing nightmares. If the traumatic events took place during your sleep or at night you have associated fears and anxiety around night time and sleep in general.

3. Chronic fatigue

You always feel “tired”. You have “no energy”. This could be related to not getting enough sleep at night and or broken up sleep. It could also manifest as related to and as part of some of the other symptoms listed below.

4. Shame and Lack of Self Worth

Trauma, especially interpersonal trauma (violence and abuse by other people who may or may not be close to you) creates incredible shame. There is nothing more devastating as being betrayed by people you trust and care about. Betrayal by trusted friends or family is extremely damaging to a person’s self worth.

Shame is also associated with the signs and symptoms that develop post trauma. People experiencing PTSD symptoms often describe feeling like they’re alone and “going crazy”. Feelings of isolation and hopelessness lead many to suicide.

Trauma and violence are often glamorized in many societies. The impact from trauma or violence is often minimized or ignored. So many people suffer in silence. They may or may not know they are suffering from the effects of trauma.

Trauma is the most avoided, ignored, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering. ~ Peter A. Levine ~

5. Anxiety and Panic Attacks

After going through a traumatic experience many people feel a general sense of unease. They may have lost their sense of safety and security. Otherwise normal situations and events may now become anxiety provoking.

Symptoms of anxiety include increase heart rate, racing thoughts, worry, sweating, shallow breathing etc. Panic attacks may include all the previous symptoms but have an added layer. People often describe feeling like there is an impending doom. They feel like they “can not breath” or like they are “dying”. Some people believe they’re having a “heart attack” and end up in emergency.

6. Addiction

Underneath addiction is often intolerable emotional pain. Addiction is typically a symptom of an underlying issue. Trauma is a major underlying issue behind many people’s addictive behaviors. Many of my clients tell me their addiction “numbs the pain” or “it makes it go away just for a little while”.

7. Depression

Depression can be a result of chronic, repeated trauma as is in the case of childhood abuse or domestic violence. It can also be a result associated with a loss of sense of safety and security. It could be also be related to loss of people involved in the traumatic events such as car accidents or in natural disasters.

8. Avoidance

People often avoid places, people, or situations that trigger memories of the traumatic event. They may also avoid all together anything and everything. They may want to stay at home where they may or may not feel safe.

9. Hypervigilance

Hypervigilance means being on guard. This is basically thinking and expecting something bad is going to happen and so I better be prepared. This ofcourse keeps your body tense and in a state of alarm. It keeps the stress response activated even though the stressful event/ situation is over and done with.

10. Feelings of Detachment/Disassociation

This is perhaps one of the most devastating symptoms of trauma. Many people describe feeling “dead inside”. They feel disconnected from themselves and others. They feel like they are alone in this world and feeling this way. Often people experience hopelessness and helplessness.

Disassociation can also be experienced as an actual physical, real time disconnect in conversations and our life experiences. People often describe not remembering chunks of their life’s experiences. They can be in the room with you but completely absent. “Not there”.

Disassociation is a real and serious effect of trauma. People who disassociate are not “crazy”. Disassociation is part of the body’s coping mechanism and what has allowed them to survive in many cases intolerable events and circumstances.

If you identify with any or all of these symptoms know you’re not alone. Also know that there is help and support. You can heal from the effects of trauma. The first step is recognizing these symptoms and making a connection with the root cause of your suffering.

Please take time to share your questions, and comments below. I would love to hear from you. Also if you found this article informative or helpful please share it on Facebook and Twitter. Thank you.

Peace, Love & Gratitude,

Neseret

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Leslie Feris June 1, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Hi Neseret. I find this so fascinating, and thanks so much for sharing this. I have learned a lot about trauma in the last couple of years, and I hope there is a lot of continued research in this area. I wonder if we may ever get to the point, as you suggest here, that we find trauma to be at the root of a lot of the problems we are seeing (addictions of all kinds, self-harm, etc). If that were the case, then we would find that we have been treating the symptoms of a problem instead of the root, and therefore perhaps that is one reason why our recovery rate isn’t as good as we would like it to be!
Hmmm – very interesting stuff!!

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Neseret June 1, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Hi Leslie,

You are very welcome. You are absolutely correct. It is because we have been treating the symptoms of the problem instead of the root cause that people don’t experience a tenth of the result they could experience in recovery.

Psychiatry follows the medical model and so people get a cocktail of medications that will numb their pain and leave them feeling like “zombies”. In order to effectively address the effects of trauma we need to have a holistic approach. Yes, and we do need to go to the root cause.

There are no quick fixes and short cuts to recovery. People need to be willing to do the work it take to move forward in their lives.

Thanks for stopping by Leslie and sharing your thoughts.

Peace, Love & Gratitude,

Neseret

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Karen June 6, 2013 at 7:25 am

This is a great article—I know what this is like, I have PTSD myself…I know I have it–been diagnosed with it…it’s a very hard thing–the symptoms above, I deal with a lot of them–on an almost daily basis…but anyways—thank you for sharing this article—

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Neseret June 7, 2013 at 11:59 am

Hi Karen,

You’re very welcome. It is very challenging to live with the symptoms of PTSD. PTSD symptoms affect every aspect of your life and relationships. Untreated PTSD can be debilitating. However, know that it is possible to heal from PTSD. This doesn’t have to be a life sentence. Have you received any types of treatments for your PTSD?

Neseret

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Karen June 8, 2013 at 1:19 am

Neseret, I haven’t really had much treatment type stuff done for the PTSD…I am taking meds—for co existing issues—but never have really done much treatment or focus on the PTSD….It affects me terribly though—It feels like a life sentence at times….

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Neseret June 8, 2013 at 1:08 pm

Karen, Trauma does not have to be a life sentence. It is absolutely possible to heal from the effects of trauma. Addressing trauma is a critical piece in your journey of healing. You’ll get minimal results if you’re just treating the symptoms with medication. Medication is one piece of the puzzle. In order for you to feel better and move forward it is important to address your trauma. Trauma that is not addressed does not go away. It continues to affect you on ongoing basis.

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Karen June 9, 2013 at 1:05 am

Just feels like one at times. I know it continues to affect a person on an ongoing basis–I’ve struggled with it for many years…Medication doesn’t do crap for me…It ha snot been working and we’ve tried every med out there that is a “safe” med for me and one I was willing to take–and none of them have worked–even at the highest dosages..But anyways….that’s about all I have to say right now…

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Neseret June 9, 2013 at 1:35 am

I can imagine this being very frustrating for you. Medication is a small piece of the puzzle. It is not the end all be all answer to all of our challenges and problems. I hope you’ll find other ways to help you feel better soon. You’re welcome to schedule a complementary consultation to see if we would be a good fit to work together. I’m here to support you.

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Karen June 10, 2013 at 3:22 am

Neseret–scheduling a consultation–huh—How would we do anything–I don’t even think we’re located near each other or anything? And yes, it is very frustrating–like beyond belief frustrating for me…and all that much worse since I have other co-existing issues as well as this one…The other ways I have tried–to help me feel better–they sometimes work–but most the time–they don’t…So yes, it is very frustrating. But anyways…that’s all I have for now.

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Kathleen June 9, 2013 at 5:26 pm

Insightful information – Thank You. One needs to realize (in my opinion) that it is not easy to forgive those who purposely do harm to others – I have found it helpful to give my loved one’s offenders & my offenders over to my higher power who I know as God.

My God is a caring, awesome, loving, forgiving, creative, & justice giving entity. This was all I could want, need, & hope for in good times- but when negative things have taken place I have a strong desire for Justice to punish those who play God here on earth. Because of my loved ones & my traumas the dimension of a Just God feels so right. God – Just -Yes, I truly believe he is also Just – & will treat those & only he knows who – with Justice – the offenders would surely would have been better off with my Justice.

My prayers & hopes are that Eternity will be their sentence & I’m so Thankful I’m not in their shoes. Plus when negative thought (traumas) invade my world I’m working on two main thoughts – Let Go & Let God & What is IS. For me these help & I can get back to enjoying all the things life has to offer. I don’t have the answers – so why waste my time – when I can & at times have to accept – What is IS – & hand it to the only one who can deal with- many unjust happenings here on earth, in his way & time. Let Go & Let God. I imagine their atheist – I would be too if my thoughts & behaviors where on their wave lenghths. Just a thought – mine. K
Kathleen recently posted..The Journey to Knowing Who You AreMy Profile

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Neseret June 10, 2013 at 11:29 am

Hi Kathleen,

Spirituality and faith can definitely play a huge role in a person’s recovery/healing from trauma. Forgiveness is one of the biggest lessons that most of us learn in our lifetime. It is possible to heal from trauma and to forgive our abusers.

Those who abuse others are coming from a place of hurt and pain. It is not an excuse for their behavior but no one coming from a place of peace and wholeness will hurt others. Those people have already paid the price.

Glad to hear that you have found solace in your faith and in surrendering your life to a higher power. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me here.

Wishing you many blessings and peace,

Neseret

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Kathleen June 10, 2013 at 3:48 pm

Neseret, I wish I agreed with your take on why some choose to do unkind – often unthinkable things to harm other. They in my opinion are the takers – ME – Me – Me,
People, two things from where I believe they live & exist – jealousy & greed are their creed.

Put these two negative, powerful, emotions to what possess their wants in life, they only see what they in their twisted mind believe – yes believe – are theirs to take & so causing pain mentally & physically to others – is their main goal. They lack empathy – doubt they give any thought to their behavior, they only get off on causing pain – when doing so they are pleased with their behavior, I have seen & heard their pleasure in causing another pain.

To give them human qualities is degrading to ones intelligentsia. Each time they think they have won – causing pain to another or increasing their wealth – through illegal practices, which others (police – our government – 2 examples) sometime look the other way – their the equivalent of a out-of-control child, each time you look the other way – instead of correcting & teaching a child right from wrong, they (the child) lose for they have been given the message – your behavior brought (the child) positive rewards – no consequence for their negative behavior, which equals their getting what they want using negative behavior – which sends the message NO consequence for being a raunchy human being.

I am well aware many ingredients go into who we become – BUT – we have choices constantly in life & when we’re young children we need a caring individual to set boundaries and show us right from wrong. Adults who make choices that benefit them & cause others harm need to be held accountable – whose policing them – Doctor – Lawyers – Business – Big Business – Goverment ect. They definitely need policing from my experiences.

It is a huge job – but when each individual does what feels good only for themselves – things are headed in the wrong direction – but to say oh they must have been wronged & suffered terrible – I truly doubt it!!! Get Real their truly is a group of people who deserve the LABEL of LOW LIFE in our society – & it does NOT depict those who were born into poverty – but quite often those who have taken & continue to take from others.

They come from all walks of life – Doctors – Lawyer – Big Business ect. and more often than not those who have the power to correct them look the other way – (Sometimes benefiting their selves. )We all need to live our life’s with the goal of setting examples of correct behavior. Following Our 10 commandments is a good start. I believe our way of life may well be @ stake. Please Do NOT play the pity card for those who choose time & time again to do wrong – WRONG is just that WRONG!!!!! Eyes open wide – it’s not pretty but we can’t correct what we choose to coat with “whoa are they”. Please rethink this one Neseret. Take Care, K
Kathleen recently posted..The Journey to Knowing Who You AreMy Profile

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marquis June 18, 2013 at 7:26 am

I am very aware about my situation have been since I was a kid. My therapist says I have symptoms of PTSD and I would always have nightmares of my mom and I duking it out in my dreams to my dad did something odd and bizarre and turning into the devil with blood coming out of his mouth, to fighting/yelling/screaming matches in my dreams with my mom.

They started between 10-12 years of age. At age 12-13 years old, one weekend, my mom said she wished she’d smothered me, killed me, never wanted me, whore/hoe, nasty B, just like your sister, etc. It grew my eyes so big hearing that and I remember sitting on my computer (with it on) crying, then getting up, and laying down on my side on my bed.

I think I lost my mind since everything in my room, hallway, and bathroom turned completely white! Even sound and taste was gone from my body. The tears were rolling down my face, I was in fetal position, and I didn’t blink. This “white world” I was in looked like a mental asylum and saw myself on my side in a straight jacket! That was very powerful and will always remember that.

My therapist said sounds like a nervous breakdown and the only way I left that “white world” was to blink and everything went back to normal: sound, taste, blinking, etc. When I talk to people, I do feel like I am ‘not all there,’ like I would to be. I have been disassociated from people since I was 10 because upon moving from CA to AZ in 96, my parents wouldn’t allow me to have friends or have them over.

That is when my interpersonal communications went from great to very poor and became a mute. I was home all the time, no sunshine, and always confined to my computer. The computer was basically mom and dad to me so was the TV! I’ve been striving to rebuild my interpersonal communication skills but I am going back and forth on not being open and easily able to talk to people like I once was able to as a child.

I only became “conditioned” this way because of my parents and that is not my true personality. I agree with that renowned traumaologist, these mental health professionals are just like any doctor and only told what they are taught in schools to their patients/clients. I told my therapist this is a lot of soul searching been doing that since I was 10. I don’t have any kind of good friends in my life and just hesitant on making friends not sure if I could trust them or not; but my therapist says I should have those kinds of thoughts not everybody is out to get me. She agrees with me that this trauma while other people didn’t think so at all.

People have told me how I speak in “fear” not in confidence. They used to ask me what am I in fear of? Never answered that question for them as I didn’t want to be told I am a liar or an ungrateful child don’t care to hear that anymore.

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Neseret June 19, 2013 at 4:17 am

Marquis,

I’m so sorry to hear about what happened in your childhood. No child should have to go through that type of abuse.

Our bodies are designed to protect us from trauma. I agree with your therapist that your experience of disassociation is a defense mechanism and a way of coping with events and circumstances that were intolerable.

As far as knowing yourself, as you continue to work on your recovery/healing you will gain more clarity. Knowing yourself is an ongoing discovery. You are definitely in the right track. Keep moving forward. Keep learning.

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Precious Leyva June 16, 2017 at 6:00 pm

It’s amazing how much our childhood can affect the rest of our lives. I had no idea that a symptom of emotional trauma was disassociation. It’s amazing that the mind can try to protect us from those particularly difficult moments in life. It’s always good to see someone about it to help with the healing process. No one should have to suffer in silence.

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