Sometimes, you feel like you’re out of control.
You are hypervigilant and you’re always worried about something bad happening to you.
Maybe you feel numb and you have trouble accessing your emotions.
It is really hard to trust people and tell them about what happened to you.
You’re worried it will always be like this and hate that something you had no control over has impacted every area of your life.
If any of these sound familiar, you are not alone. These are common responses to trauma and can be signs of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The VA estimates that over half the population will experience a traumatic experience in their life and around 8 million adults have PTSD in any given year. As overwhelming as these things feel right now, it doesn’t have to always be like this. Trauma therapy can help whether you are just trying to move forward after a terrible experience or you have PTSD.
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Let’s start with defining trauma.
Trauma is defined as a natural response to a horrible experience, or series of events. For example, childhood abuse, emotional neglect, sexual assault, domestic violence, medical procedures, loss through death or separation, illness, combat, divorce, custody loss, unexpected failure, and a breakup, are all experiences that can cause trauma. However, trauma isn’t limited to this list of events. It can be any difficult situations that overwhelmed your typical ability to cope.
The problem is not you. It’s the trauma that happened TO you.
For some people, a traumatic experience can come back as an intense and vivid memory or nightmare. For others, the aftermath of trauma can cause you to feel out of control, overwhelmed, afraid or furious. Sometimes these feelings arise seemingly out of nowhere. Often people who have experienced trauma find themselves feeling tense, numb, or absent. Maybe you’ve even noticed that these issues are starting to impact your relationships.
The truth is, none of these symptoms of PTSD symptoms are your fault. In fact, they’re normal in the days after an overwhelming event.
Do you have to have PTSD to benefit from trauma therapy?
There is no doubt that trauma therapy can be helpful for people who meet the criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, there are also many, many people suffering from the effects of trauma that don't meet the definition for PTSD as it is currently written.
Trauma can be an accumulation of experiences, resulting in a traumatic reaction because of the cumulative effect. This type of trauma is known as "complex trauma". Trauma can even have to do with experiences that don't happen, such as not having enough food or love early in life.
Trauma is defined as any experience that overwhelms the body's ability to cope with it. When this happens, the body engages in a predictable set of defenses designed to keep you sane in the moment. The problem is, after the danger has passed the body doesn't always know how to go back to baseline.
So some people who have had trauma go through their lives feeling on edge and worried about some something that feels like it might happen, or feeling numb and spacy because the body has shut down certain functions. These reactions may or may not receive a diagnosis of PTSD, but they are very treatable with trauma therapy.
Symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are totally normal and expected after experiencing trauma.
Feeling out of control, numbed, overwhelmed, afraid or furious are completely normal reactions to trauma. A Traumatic experience makes your body think that your survival is threatened in some way. So, your body does whatever it can to help you to survive. First, there’s an impulse to call for help. If no help comes or the help isn’t useful, then the body prepares to fight or flee the threat.
Trauma therapists are not surprised by these reactions in the aftermath of a trauma. Rather, we expect it. However, when these symptoms go on for several months, you may have developed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It’s like your body got “stuck” in that survival mode and still thinks there may be a threat around any corner. Even though the trauma wasn’t your fault, your PTSD symptoms may feel like they’re taking over every area of your life and you are left to pick up the pieces.
Trauma and the symptoms of PTSD can look like anxiety.
Your body’s fight or flight system is basically designed to help you survive. When faced with a threat, you feel a surge of energy, you breathe really fast, and your muscles tense. People often experience fight-or-flight as intense anxiety. These symptoms may include feeling like there’s a knot in your stomach, shallow breathing, or jumbled thoughts.
Many people freeze during traumatic experiences.
If your body is not able to fight or flee in order to deal with the threat, your body will prepare to freeze. Like deer in the headlights. Your body has decided that the threat can’t be fought off or run from, so it freezes. This may mean that an individual who has experienced trauma tries very hard to go unnoticed. Some people feel guilty that this was their response during the traumatic experience. However, this response to freeze is biologically ingrained. It wasn’t by choice that you froze. Instead, it was your body’s attempt to protect you.
This is why so many rape and sexual assault victims do not fight back – our biology is hard-wired to make us freeze in place.
Trauma and symptoms of PTSD may also look like depression
Another reaction to trauma is the instinct to collapse. This occurs when the body thinks that death is imminent after trauma. Even if the trauma did not result in a life-threatening situation, the body may still exhibit the signs of collapse. These symptoms often look and feel like depression; the body exerts very little energy and often a person feels numb, tired and spacy a lot of the time.
Trauma therapy can help you find healing from a traumatic experience
If you have experienced trauma and are having symptoms of PTSD then trauma counseling can help you find healing. Many people think that you need to address what happened to you right away in order to get over it.
However, the first and most important step in trauma counseling is to help you learn how to feel safe. Your therapist will work with you to help you feel safe in therapy and outside of it. This means building trust between the you and your therapist. Then, as you build trust with your therapist, you can begin to address the trauma more directly in counseling sessions. As you explore what happened to you, acknowledge the impact it had and find healing, you can begin to move forward in a new, more meaningful way.
Ultimately, our goal as trauma therapists is to help you understand what happened to you, accept your own feelings about the event and be able to move forward. If you’re like many trauma survivors, you may worry that you’re gong to become overwhelmed when you face your trauma in counseling sessions. And the truth is that it may be difficult. However, your therapist will help you through the process so you can learn to experience your feelings without being overwhelmed. Through trauma treatment, you’ll be able to maintain meaningful relationships and be successful at work and school. It is possible to re-create a life that feels peaceful and meaningful again. Our trauma therapists can help.
Begin Trauma Therapy in Washington D.C.
If you have survived trauma and are experiencing symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), please know that help is available. Our therapists are trained to help survivors of trauma begin to find healing. To begin trauma therapy in Washington DC, please follow these three steps:
- Contact our counseling office to set up an initial therapy appointment,
- Meet with one of our trauma therapists,
- Begin counseling and begin finding a path forward.
Other Services offered at Monarch Wellness & Psychotherapy
In addition to trauma counseling, our Washington DC therapy clinic offers a variety of mental health services to help you achieve emotional and physical wellness. Our goal is to create a safe space where you can be real and honest about the things that are bothering you. We offer individual therapy, couples therapy, family therapy, and group therapy for adolescents, young adults, and adults in the D.C. area. Other specialties our therapists offer include treating eating disorders, depression counseling, and anxiety treatment. Please contact our counseling office with any questions or to learn more about the ways we can help find healing.