Key Takeaways

  • Emotional trauma refers to the mental and emotional impact of experiencing a painful or distressing event.
  • Emotional trauma affects everyone differently, but it can make it difficult to regulate your emotions, enjoy social activities, and concentrate on daily living.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed by emotional trauma, consider seeking a trauma-informed therapist who can offer the right resources and support to help you prioritize your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
Trauma is a lasting emotional response to a deeply distressing incident or series of events. Trauma can impact anyone. And the effects are not always very noticeable, even in yourself or among the people you care about most. While emotional trauma isn’t as easy to recognize as physical harm, knowing the signs can help you regulate your emotions, build healthier habits, and live a more present and fulfilling life.

Understanding emotional trauma

Emotional trauma refers to the psychological impact of experiencing a disturbing or distressing event. It can affect your ability to cope with difficult situations. And it can have a major effect on your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. If you’ve experienced emotional trauma, it can impact how you think, feel, and act — even after the traumatic experience has ended. And if you don’t address it, it can leave you feeling helpless, vulnerable, and insecure. Some common causes and sources of emotional trauma include:
  • Physical or sexual assault
  • Verbal or emotional abuse 
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Childhood neglect or abuse
  • Betrayal or abandonment 
  • Witnessing or experiencing domestic violence 
  • Witnessing or experiencing an accident or natural disaster
  • War or combat

Symptoms of emotional trauma 

Trauma affects everyone differently, and the effects can be “subtle, insidious, or outright destructive.” As a result, many people will experience psychological and physical symptoms of trauma.

Psychological and emotional symptoms

Experiencing traumatic stress can cause people to feel overwhelmed by their emotions or have trouble feeling them at all. Because of this, many trauma survivors have trouble regulating their emotions. Common emotional symptoms of trauma include:
  • Anger 
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Depression and persistent sadness
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Emotional numbness or detachment 
Unresolved trauma often goes hand in hand with other mental health concerns. For some people, emotional trauma will lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a mental health condition that can occur following a traumatic event. And according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 80% of people with PTSD have one or more additional mental health diagnoses. Conditions that often occur with PTSD include depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and borderline personality disorder.

Physical symptoms of emotional trauma

In addition to mental health concerns, exposure to trauma can also affect your physical health. Common symptoms include: 
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Fatigue during the day
  • Changes in appetite and eating habits 
  • Unexplained physical pain, like headaches or stomach aches
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Sweating 

Other ways to recognize emotional trauma

Some people’s symptoms will resolve shortly after the traumatic event. But for many others, the effects can continue for weeks, months, or even years. This is especially true if they don’t have access to proper treatment and support. As a result, people can develop unhealthy behavior patterns to help them cope with their pain.  Here are several common behavioral and cognitive signs of emotional trauma in adults.  Behavioral changes to look for
  • Withdrawal from social activities: Experiencing emotional trauma can make it difficult to live as you did before the traumatic event. It’s common to want to avoid people, places, and activities that you associate with the trauma. And for some people, their distress can lead to overall social withdrawal, meaning they try to distance themselves from all social interactions and relationships.
  • Risky behaviors: Trauma can lead to an increased dependency on drugs and alcohol as a way to cope with difficult emotions. Experiencing trauma can also trigger other reckless behaviors, such as gambling, unprotected sex, and physical fights or altercations. 
  • Irritability and anger: Anger is a common response to trauma, especially if the traumatic event involved exploitation, violence, childhood abuse, or betrayal by someone you trusted. Research shows that people with PTSD develop a higher level of tension and arousal. This can leave them feeling on edge, irritable, and prone to angry outbursts.

Cognitive changes to look for 

  • Difficulty concentrating: Trauma can cause intrusive thoughts that make it difficult to focus at work, school, or in social settings. When your mind is preoccupied with a traumatic event, focusing on tasks or paying attention to conversations can be challenging.
  • Memory problems: Experiencing trauma can cause both short-term and long-term memory problems. After a traumatic event, your memories may be disorganized or confusing. You may also not be able to remember all the details of the traumatic experience. You may even experience dissociative amnesia, which means that your brain blocks out entire memories.
  • Confusion and disorientation: Confusion and numbness are normal responses to experiencing emotional trauma. You may even experience dissociation, which can make you feel disconnected from your body or like your surroundings aren’t real. And if you feel emotionally numb, it may be difficult to connect with more positive emotions. If these feelings continue without periods of calm or relief, it may be time to seek professional support.

Find a therapist with Rula

Experiencing emotional trauma can have a significant impact on your mental, emotional, and physical well-being. And without the right resources and support, it can be difficult to understand how to process and cope with those distressing emotions. That’s where Rula can help. Rula makes it easier to find a licensed therapist who is in network with your insurance, accepting new clients, and an expert in providing trauma-informed care. With Rula, you’ll have access to a network of more than 8,000 therapists, making it easier to find a provider who specializes in trauma and understands both your clinical and cultural needs. And if you’re looking for medication management, Rula can connect you with a psychiatric provider to help you create a personalized treatment plan.

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