What is Emotional Trauma?

Many of us can recall circumstances or specific events in our lives that left their mark on our psyches. Emotional trauma is an invisible scar resulting from an experience that changes your worldview, makes you feel unsafe or has a long-term effect on your quality of life and overall well-being.

Emotional trauma can result from a one-time event or be ongoing, such as chronic abuse, bullying, discrimination or humiliation. While some traumatic experiences – like a car accident or an assault – can involve physical harm, you do not have to sustain an injury to experience emotional trauma.

How Emotional Trauma Affects Your Brain and Body

The damage emotional trauma can wreak on your mental well-being can be more challenging to recover from than a physical wound, since trauma changes how your brain works.

  • Brain scans of people with post-traumatic stress disorder reveal that they have an overactive amygdala, which is the area that helps us process and control emotions.
  • Traumatized people also show decreased function in their hippocampus and prefrontal cortex, which play crucial roles in regulating behavioral and cognitive functions.

A leading characteristic of emotional trauma includes a persistent feeling of being tense, afraid or on edge. Due to trauma, you might have a heightened fight-or-flight response that makes you startle easily in response to various sensory triggers. You can also experience mood swings, headaches, trouble concentrating and chronic fatigue.

Trauma victims often carry the burden of complex emotions like guilt and shame, on top of co-occurring mental health challenges such as anxiety or depression. As a result, you might deal with frequent intrusive thoughts, nightmares or flashbacks to the traumatic event.

Recovering From Emotional Trauma

Therapy is the healthiest way to process challenging emotions, identify beneficial coping strategies and find tools to work through your trauma. With patience and time, you can heal from emotional trauma, recognize maladaptive behavioral patterns and start to improve your outlook on life.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing has proven to be one of the most effective therapeutic approaches for trauma victims. The concept behind EMDR is that specific eye movements can reduce the negative emotions behind traumatic memories by stimulating the parts of your brain most affected by trauma.

During an EMDR session, your therapist will ask you to recall traumatic or frightening experiences while they carefully direct your eye movements to activate both hemispheres of your brain. They’ll continue this until you become desensitized – that is, you no longer find the memory disturbing or upsetting. Then, your therapist can help you reprocess the experience through a new lens, thus allowing you to perceive it differently.

Women’s-Only Mental Health and Substance Abuse Treatment in California

At Rising Roads Recovery, we understand that women face unique stressors and societal pressures that can contribute to co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. We are here to guide you on a path to recovery and discover a happier, more meaningful life. Reach out to learn more about our levels of care.

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