• One Size Does Not Fit All

    Just as no two people are the same, no two experiences are the same either. What is traumatic to one person may not be traumatic to the next, and, get this…what’s traumatic to someone in one moment may not be traumatic to them in the next. For some things to shift from stressful to traumatizing, it takes a seriously complicated system (a person) that has led a seriously complex life filled with elaborate experiences to be under a certain degree of stress, and for just one or two things in that system to go awry. Maybe it was a lack of attachment or security felt, or safety could have been threatened, or a feeling of shame or guilt could have been attached to a situation, perhaps a feeling of responsibility could have clouded interpretations of events, the list is endless. Regardless of what actually led to the event leaving impacts of trauma, it’s important to know that every experience with trauma is different. 

        Not only is the experience itself unique, but the symptoms people experience after a traumatic event can be very unique as well. While most people who develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other trauma-related disorders will find that they can often relate to one another’s struggles and difficulties, each individual’s experiences are unique in their own way. With that being said, though, let’s take a look at one of the types of symptoms that people sometimes experience after a traumatic event, and some things you can do if you find yourself all too familiar with them. The symptoms we’ll be looking at today are called intrusive or intrusion symptoms.

        Intrusion symptoms often come in the form of recurrent, unwanted, and stressful memories and thoughts related to traumatic events. These can come in the form of flashbacks where a person actually feels as though they’re reliving events, however they don’t always. These can be conscious or subconscious memories, so sometimes they manifest in physiological responses rather than actual memories (i.e. heart racing, trouble breathing, sweaty palms, chest tightening, leg shaking, etc.). Often, these happen quickly and are over before a person even realizes that they were reminded of their past. You may have heard someone refer to “trauma triggers” before, or simply say, “I got triggered”. Often, this is what they’re referring to. We can experience these in our sleep, too. As our mind plays out images of our day and links it to trying to process our past, we tend to have what I refer to as trauma dreams. These dreams are sometimes replays of events that we’ve been through, sometimes they’re replays of themes we’ve often experienced throughout our lives, other times we don’t remember them but wake up in a panic or as though a black cloud is hanging over our heads. 

        So now that you feel outed, what do you do with this information? For one, if you’re not already seeing a therapist, that’s always going to be my first recommendation for someone experiencing these symptoms, because as I said before, every person is different and any information you read in a blog is very general information that is not individualized therapeutic care. You deserve individualized care. 

        Next if it were me, I’d take time getting to know my triggers, by first asking myself what it feels like when I’m triggered and familiarizing myself with those feelings, and then noticing when I’m feeling those feelings. For example, I know that I’m triggered when my face and ears get hot, my chest gets tights, and my feet and legs feel restless. Once I knew that information about myself, I started paying attention to when I felt those things, and asking myself the question, “what just happened?”. This allows a person to become familiar with their trauma triggers. 

        While working on this process, it can also be helpful to be practicing some skills to help relax your nervous system. It sounds really cheesy when you’ve never done them before, but things like breathing exercises and meditation are actually really powerful tools for learning to calm down when feeling triggered. There are countless apps, videos, and podcasts out there with resources for learning to use breathing exercises and/or meditation as relaxation techniques that are relatively easy to find. But maybe breathing and meditation doesn’t work for you, and instead you like to get in touch with your creative side by journaling, drawing, or painting. Or maybe hitting the gym or going for a walk helps you deal with intrusive symptoms.

        There are a few important takeaways from this and they are these: that if these symptoms are ones that you’re experiencing, then you don’t have to experience them forever; there is help available and hope for you; and if you tried something that didn’t work for you in the past, just like the fact that hurting from trauma isn’t one size fits all, healing from trauma isn’t either.

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