Psychological trauma is an emotional injury, usually resulting from an extremely stressful or life-threatening situation, which may have lasted a few minutes, hours or sometimes for a certain amount of time. Trauma could be a substantial perceived danger, not necessarily life-threatening, but experienced over a significant period. Psychological trauma can arise also from physical, emotional, psychological, or sexual abuse that you may have suffered.

Causes of trauma

Severe childhood emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
Experiencing or witnessing violence
Catastrophic injuries or illnesses
Loss of a significant person in your life
Experiencing a loss perceived as a danger to survival – e.g. losing house, job, reputation, etc.
Self-isolating; COVID-19 lockdown; Global pandemic; etc.
Abandonment (being left alone), especially during younger years
Experiencing natural disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, fires, floods, volcanoes, etc.
Unexpected events that can be traumatic under certain circumstances

Common signs and symptoms of trauma

Bodily Hyperarousal

Most common signs of trauma are embodied responses such as increased heart rate, difficult breathing (rapid, shallow, panting, etc.), cold sweats, tingling, muscular tension, etc.

Mental Hyperarousal

Increase in thoughts, especially worrying ones.


An automatic separation of awareness from physical reality, which protects us from the impact of escalating arousal. If a life-threatening event continues, dissociation protects us from the pain of perceived danger. It is a common means of enduring experiences that are, at the moment, beyond endurance.


In this case the disconnection is between the person and the memory of or feelings about a particular event (or series of events). We may deny that an event occurred, or we may act as though it was unimportant.

Feelings of helplessness, immobility, or freezing

If hyperarousal is the nervous system’s accelerator, immobility is its brake. When both of these states occur at the same time, a feeling of overwhelming helplessness results. This is not the ordinary sense of helplessness that affects all of us from time to time. It is a feeling of being completely immobilized and powerless to act. This is not a perception, belief, or trick of the imagination. It is real. The body feels paralyzed.

One may experience one or more of the following symptoms

Concurrently with or shortly after trauma or much later on: hypervigilance (being “on guard” at all times); intrusive imagery or “flashbacks;” exaggerated emotional and startled reactions to noises, quick movements, etc.; nightmares and night terrors; abrupt mood swings (rage reactions, temper tantrums, shame); reduced ability to deal with stress (easily and frequently stressed out); panic attacks, anxiety, and phobias; etc.

How therapy can help with trauma


Letting the body to reframe the experience of trauma

Trauma is not an ailment or a disease, but the by-product of an instinctively instigated, altered state of consciousness. It can be seen as a necessary and automatic response of our nervous system in moments of great distress. We enter this altered state—let us call it “survival mode”— we perceive that our lives are being threatened. If we are overwhelmed by the threat and are unable to successfully defend ourselves, we can become frozen in a constant state of survival. This highly aroused state is designed solely to enable short-term defensive actions in order to protect and sustain life. But when undergoing such instances, our body keeps a score of it for the purpose of either avoiding such threatening situations or being ready to face such an instance in future. Therapy can enable us to reframe the experience in a safe way thus retraining the body to relax the survival mode and let greater sense of aliveness in the body. When one successfully heals trauma, a fundamental shift occurs in one’s being as the nervous system regains its capacity for self-regulation and co-regulation. One experiences greater spontaneity, allowing us to relax, enjoy, and live life more fully.


Rebuilding trust in others and in life

To admit that you have been abused is not always easy, especially if your abuser was someone you had trusted wholeheartedly and was meant to take care of, love and appreciate you. You may have forgiven and given them another chance on many occasions, but your trust was abused and you were traumatised. Therapy is a safe space to explore freely, gain insights and learn to trust again others and life in general.


Discharging excess survival energy produced in the experience of a traumatic event

Some methods in therapy involve the process of discharging excess survival energy by completing the arousal cycle of fight or flight response. In therapy it is possible to successfully uncouple the fear from the immobolisation and find a way to release the freeze state. Other methods are more relational in nature and they focus on the gradual re-experiencing of safety and security while being in a therapeutic relationship.


Letting go of unhealthy coping strategies

one can easily adopt coping strategies to deny, numb or avoid the pain of trauma through intake of unhealthy substances or other life-sapping behaviours. Although, those coping strategies may have had a purpose to keep us safe from certain overwhelming feelings, in the long term they become a hindrance to our healthy functioning in life. Therapeutic space helps us to investigate our unique coping strategies and embrace more life-giving strategies in life.

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