- Se'Lena Wingfield, Ph.D.
After the Trauma - What Really Happens
After the Trauma
According to the American Psychological Association (2023), trauma is “any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, dissociation, confusion, or other disruptive feelings intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, behavior, and other aspects of functioning.” As the definition states, a person can have both immediate and long-term reactions as a result of suffering through traumatic events.
When we experience trauma, our brain puts our body into a fight or flight mode to increase our chances of survival. A fight or flight response is a pattern of physiological changes caused by the activity of the sympathetic nervous system in response to threatening or otherwise stressful situations that leads to the mobilization of energy for physical activity, such as attacking or avoiding the offender or offending stimulus (APA, 2023).
When you are in a horrible situation, fighting or fleeing for your life or living in an abusive relationship, most of your focus is on getting out of that situation or the day-to-day suffering. But what happens when you get out of that situation and out of fight or flight mode?
After the traumatic event is over, your brain automatically prompts you to assess the damage. Again, it is programmed to help you survive. While fighting, fleeing, freezing, or fawning, you may not have noticed how many mental, physical, or social cuts, bruises, and contusions you sustained in the melee. You didn’t have time to assess the damage properly and therefore didn’t attend to your wounds. But once the threat is over and you can focus on yourself, your brain takes inventory. And while taking inventory, your trauma can be triggered over and over again. Therefore, it is not abnormal to experience adverse feelings (e.g., hate, anger, helplessness, or fear) well after the traumatic event has passed. After the immediate danger has passed, you are tasked with putting yourself back together mentally, physically, and socially. And you can do it one day at a time because your body also has a self-healing mechanism.
Try self-help, therapy, kickboxing classes, yoga - any productive activity that can make you feel heard, seen, and empowered.
(2023, January 9). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from https://dictionary.apa.org/trauma
(2023, January 9). APA Dictionary of Psychology. American Psychological Association. Retrieved January 9, 2023, from https://dictionary.apa.org/fight-or-flight-response