Many people think of trauma as a traumatic incident such as an accident, sexual assault, or being witness to a terrible event. While this is certainly true, the actual definition of trauma is much more broad, and can encompass a wide variety of unpleasant events that you may not have originally thought of as “traumatic”.
A simple definition of trauma is any very difficult or unpleasant experience that has caused someone to have mental or emotional problems or disturbances that typically last for a long time unless treated.
Examples of traumatic events can include anything from going through a divorce or breakup to the loss of a loved one, to having had an over-controlling, anxious, neglectful, critical or abusive parent or sibling. Other popular examples of trauma include having been bullied at school, or having been in an abusive relationship, or having suffered a major period of illness or difficult health diagnosis.
Traumatic events can impact the neural circuitry in our brains to result in fixated neural networks. These fixated neural networks then become triggered by events that to our brains seem similar to the original traumatic event. This triggering then results in looping of an unwanted cycle of negative beliefs, destructive behavioural patterns, and negative feelings such as anxiety, panic, hopelessness, fear, anger, frustration and depression. In some cases, the symptoms may be accompanied by negative memory flashbacks and nightmares, sometimes meeting the criteria for PTSD but not always.
Regardless of whether or not one meets the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, trauma is effectively treated by emdr therapy.
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