The Main Ways Trauma Continues To Ruin Our Lives Long After It’s Over

The effects of trauma, in the absence of effective therapy, can adversely affect our lives for years or even decades (for our WHOLE lifetimes, in fact) after it is over (indeed, the effects of trauma themselves can take years from when the traumatic experience ended to present themselves – in relation to this, you may wish to read my previously published article entitled : ‘Why Can Effects Of Childhood Trauma Be Delayed?’).

In his book, ‘The Betrayal Bond‘, Patrick Carnes, PhD, outlines eight main ways in which the experience of severe trauma can continue to affect us. I list these below :

Trauma reaction :

The ‘alarm’ response to the traumatic experience. These responses can be both biological and psychological. Extreme and prolonged trauma can lead to an individual becoming essentially ‘trapped’ in the alarm response which results in him/her becoming extremely, emotionally reactive and prone to flying into rages in response to the smallest of provocations. This state is sometimes referred to as hypervigilance or hyperarousal.

Furthermore, this ongoing trauma reaction frequently involves :

Trauma arousal :

This refers to deriving pleasure from taking large risks, sensation seeking, and exposing oneself to high levels of danger or even from getting involved in violent situations ; individuals who are traumatized may behave in such ways to detract from feelings of emptiness and emotional pain.

Individuals displaying trauma arousal may :

  • find it difficult being alone
  • be intolerant of ‘low-stress situations’ (as such situations do not satisfy their cravings for mental stimulation).
  • need ever increasing ‘hits’ of stimulation and excitement due to habituation, leading to taking greater and greater risks
  • use stimulant drugs (e.g. cocaine)
  • associate with dangerous people
  • become increasingly addicted to the arousal state

Trauma blocking :

Trauma blocking refers to the individual’s attempts to numb him/herself so as to escape / block out painful feelings associated with the traumatic experiences.

Individuals displaying trauma blocking behavior may :

  • over-eat, especially carbohydrates to induce drowsiness
  • consume excessive amounts of alcohol
  • sleep excessively (referred to as hypersomnia)
  • workaholism
  • undertaking excessive exercise
  • compulsive sex
  • ‘zone out’

Trauma splitting :

This refers to the unconscious process of avoiding the reality of the traumatic experience by ‘splitting it off’ from conscious awareness so that it is compartmentalized and unintegrated into personality so as to allow day-to-day functioning (if it was not ‘split off’ and compartmentalized, it would psychologically overwhelm the individual. Therefore ‘splitting’ can be categorized as defence mechanism ; however, such splitting prevents the information associated with the traumatic experience being properly processed which, in turn, prevents traumatic resolution. (For more about ‘splitting’, click here).

‘Splitting’ can manifest itself in various ways :

  • using hallucinogenic drugs (such as LSD) to ‘enter an alternative reality.’
  • In extreme cases, ‘splitting’ can take on the form of dissociative identity disorder (which used to be called ‘multiple personality disorder’) which may involve amnesia about what one has been doing and where one is
  • certain religious and spiritual practises
  • ‘obsessive love’ – see my previously published article about OBSESSIVE LOVE DISORDER
  • frequently retreating in one’s own mind to a ‘fantasy world.’
  • living a double life

Trauma abstinence :

This refers to a compulsion to experience deprivation. This is especially likely to happen when the individual is experiencing high levels of stress, anxiety or shame ( to read my article entitled, ‘Shame Caused By Childhood Trauma And How We Try To Repress It) or even at times when great success has been achieved (see my article on self-defeating personality disorder).

According to Carnes, self-deprivation may relate to the individual having been deprived and neglected during childhood, causing him/her to believe, as an adult, that s/he is unworthy and undeserving of ‘the good things in life.’ If such an individual also has a high level of arousal caused by childhood trauma such as severe abuse (click here to read my article about hyperarousal ), this may also have led neurochemical changes in the individual’s brain making him/her prone to addictive behavior. When these two two factors (i.e. self-neglect caused by a belief of being ‘unworthy’ and proneness to addiction) coalesce, s/he may become, as it were, addicted to self-deprivation.

Carnes provides the example of anorexia, explaining that self-starvation operates like an addiction to drugs because it can increase the production of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killers (e.g. Tepper, 1992). He also states that such addictions to deprivation may operate to psychologically compensate for a sense of loss of control in other areas of life ; the example Carnes provides is that of a woman who is sexually out of control ‘compensating’ by becoming anorexic.

Food is just one example of what such individuals may deprive themselves of, other examples include :

  • heating
  • medical care
  • depriving oneself of success (self-sabotage)
  • sufficient rest and relaxation
  • holidays
  • anything that could be categorized as a luxury
  • vacations

Trauma shame :

This refers to feelings of shame (see my previously published article, ‘Childhood Trauma, The Shame Loop And Defenses Against Shame’ ) and self-hatred (see my previously published article, ‘ Childhood Trauma Leading To Self-Hatred And Intense Self-Criticism) that, all too frequently, arise following chronic and severe childhood trauma

Feelings of shame can manifest themselves in various ways, including :.

 

  • Trauma repetition :

This refers to an unconscious drive to recreate and re-experience the trauma through people (e.g. forming relationships with physically abusive partners if one was physically abused as a child) and situations and to repeat behaviors associated with the original trauma.

Trauma repetition may also involve the traumatized individual being unconsciously driven to treat others in the same abusive manner that they themselves had been treated.

There exist different theories as to why individuals often re-enact their original traumatic experiences later on in life. For example,  Levy PhD (1998) proposed that reenactments might be caused by :

To read Levy’s original paper on these four possible causes of reenactment of trauma, click here.

Trauma bonds :

This refers to the tendency to form relationships with others that are maladaptive and dysfunctional and expose one to harm, danger, shame, emotional pain, exploitation or, in extreme cases, even death. Examples of traumatic bonds operating in relationships include those that exist within a context of domestic violence or incest. Other examples include codependents who live with alcoholics or compulsive gamblers.

Carnes provides us with various examples of signs that a relationship may be based upon a traumatic bond, some of which I present below :

  • remaining loyal to those who betray one
  • keeping the abuse secret
  • staying in conflict with others when walking away would cost one nothing
  • being constantly attracted to / obsessed with / preoccupied by untrustworthy people
  • staying in a relationship which causes one great psychological pain

 

David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

About David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)

Psychologist, researcher and educationalist.

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