Woman overcoming trauma

Emotional Trauma – What is It and How to Recover

Emotional trauma is an often misunderstood and understated phenomenon that can have devastating and life-altering impacts on one’s life. It can manifest itself in a variety of ways, from physical symptoms to psychological and emotional changes, making it difficult to properly identify and understand. Though we often associate trauma with physical injury or abuse, emotional trauma can be just as devastating and can come from many different sources.

What is emotional trauma?

Emotional trauma is a difficult subject to define, but it can be understood as an emotional response to a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. It often involves feelings of fear, anxiety, helplessness, and sadness. In some cases, people may also experience physical symptoms such as trembling and sweating due to their traumatic episodes.

Emotional trauma can stem from a variety of sources, including accidents, natural disasters, abuse or violence in the home, bullying or harassment at school or work, and even witnessing a traumatic event. It can be something as small as a child being embarrassed in front of their peers or something as big as a long-term battle with post-traumatic stress disorder. It can be caused by a single event or a series of events and can have long-term implications for the survivor.

Regardless of the cause of the trauma, however, the effects are often severe and long-lasting. Affected individuals may find themselves struggling with depression and anxiety, as well as difficulties sleeping and concentrating on tasks. Identifying these issues early on is essential for proper recovery so that people can begin healing emotionally and psychologically from their traumatic experiences.

girl crying on the floor

Causes of emotional trauma

At its core, emotional trauma is an intense emotional reaction to exposure to an event or situation that feels overwhelming or out of control. This reaction can often be triggered by an event that is perceived as traumatic by the individual experiencing it, even if it does not appear to be traumatic to an outside observer. Psychological trauma can be caused by a single incident or a series of incidents, both of which can have serious, long-term consequences.

A person who experiences emotional distress may struggle to process their feelings in healthy ways, which can lead to further psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, severe mood swings, and problems sleeping. Common causes of emotional trauma include:

  • physical or emotional abuse
  • sexual abuse
  • the sudden death of a loved one
  • childhood neglect or abandonment
  • witnessing domestic violence
  • experiencing bullying
  • systemic and repeated microaggressions, discrimination, and oppression
  • being involved in a car accident

However, trauma can also arise from situations that may not at first seem obviously traumatic, such as a breakup, a major life transition, or a traumatic medical procedure. Regardless of the source, the effects of emotional trauma can be severe and long-lasting.

physical abuse

Symptoms of emotional trauma

When it comes to recognizing the signs of emotional trauma, it’s important to keep in mind that everyone experiences trauma differently. However, some of the common trauma symptoms include:

  • Intense fear, helplessness, guilt, and shame
  • Difficulty managing emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear
  • Intrusive memories, flashbacks, or nightmares related to the traumatic event
  • Avoidance of people, places, or activities that remind you of the event
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Extreme mood swings or changes in behavior
  • Increased anxiety or panic attacks
  • Feeling emotionally numb or disconnected from your body
  • Feeling constantly on edge or overly vigilant
  • Having difficulty trusting people
  • Feeling alienated or distant from loved ones
  • Outbursts of anger or irritability
  • Muscle tension
  • Self-destructive behaviors or thoughts of suicide

These symptoms can look different for everyone, so it’s important to keep an eye out for any changes in your mental health or behavior. A therapist can help you process your feelings and create a plan for managing them. 

Coping strategies

Emotional trauma, especially childhood trauma, can be a particularly difficult issue to grapple with. From panic attacks and anxiety to fear and depression, the effects of emotional trauma are vast and long-lasting. 

Coping with emotional trauma can be a long and difficult process. It can take time to heal and recover from traumatic experiences, and it’s important to be patient and kind to yourself during this time. It’s also important to remember that you’re not alone – there are many people out there who have gone through similar experiences and can help you through your own healing journey.

Here are some coping strategies that may help you if you’re suffering from emotional trauma:

Talk to someone. It can be incredibly helpful to talk to someone about what you’re going through. Talking to a trusted friend, family member, mental health professional, or support group can help you to process and make sense of your feelings and experiences and create a sense of safety.

talking with a friend

Find creative outlets. Expressing yourself through creative outlets can be a great way to process difficult emotional experiences. Writing, art, photography, music, or any other creative endeavor can help you to express yourself and put your feelings into words or images.

Exercise. Exercise can not only help your body to release tension, but it can also boost your mood and improve your mental health. Try to find an activity that you enjoy and make it a regular part of your routine.

Practice relaxation techniques. Relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help reduce stress levels and improve your overall well-being.

Connect with nature. Spending time outdoors in nature can be incredibly calming and healing and can reduce stress levels and improve your mood. Taking a walk in the park, sitting in your garden, or simply looking out of the window can all help relieve tension and connect you to the world around you.

Take care of your physical health. Taking care of your physical health can improve your mental well-being. Eating well, getting enough sleep, taking regular exercise, and avoiding drugs and alcohol can reduce stress and improve your overall health.

Connect with others. Connecting with others who have experienced similar traumas can be incredibly helpful. Whether it’s through a support group or online community, connecting with others who understand can provide you with much-needed support and validation.

Seek professional help. It is important to seek professional help if you are struggling to cope with your emotions. A therapist can help you process your emotional trauma and provide you with the tools and strategies to cope.

All of these methods provide beneficial outlets for the emotions associated with traumatic experiences. Additionally, it is important to create a support system of understanding friends or family members who will listen without judgment. Talking about experiences in a safe space can help reduce overwhelming feelings of shame or guilt that often accompany traumatic events.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

Treatment options

When it comes to emotional trauma, recovery is not something that happens overnight. Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the trauma and should be tailored to the individual’s needs. Understanding what type of treatment will best help you or a loved one can be daunting, but exploring different therapies can help lead to healing from emotional trauma.

Cognitive behavioral therapy

For those who suffer from milder forms of emotional trauma, there are many steps that can be taken in order to start healing. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based psychotherapy that focuses on replacing unhealthy thought patterns with more positive ones, leading to better mental health outcomes and improved well-being.

CBT is one of the most widely recommended treatments for emotional trauma. The focus is on understanding how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors contribute to the person’s suffering. This can include exploring how past experiences have shaped the person’s current thought patterns and beliefs. It may also involve examining the person’s current life circumstances and how they may be contributing to the trauma.

Through CBT, the therapist can help trauma survivors identify and challenge unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. This can help them gain a better understanding of the trauma and how it has affected them. The therapist can also help them develop healthier coping skills and make positive changes in their life. 

emotional trauma

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

This approach uses eye movements and other forms of stimulation to help people to process and integrate their traumatic experiences. It is a relatively new form of therapy that has gained a lot of attention in recent years as a highly successful treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). EMDR helps individuals to find meaning in their experience rather than simply recall it.

The basic idea behind EMDR is that by engaging both sides of the brain through eye movement and auditory stimulation, the individual is able to access the memories and emotions associated with the traumatic event in a way that is more accessible and less threatening. This allows the individual to reprocess the trauma and gain a sense of mastery over the feelings and memories associated with it.

The goal of EMDR is to reduce the intensity of the trauma and provide relief from the negative emotions that accompany it.

Dialectical behavioral therapy

DBT is a well-researched and effective approach to treating individuals who are experiencing emotional trauma. The goal of DBT is to help a person become more mindful of their emotional reactions and learn to regulate their emotions more effectively. In the case of emotional trauma, DBT can be particularly helpful in helping to restore an individual’s sense of self-worth and sense of security.

DBT was initially developed by psychologist Dr. Marsha Linehan in the late 1980s and has since been used to treat a range of psychological issues, including substance abuse, depression, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

DBT combines cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness practices. It works by helping individuals identify and understand their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in order to create positive change. The goal of DBT is not only to help manage emotions more effectively but also to develop skills that can be utilized for a lifetime. This includes teaching effective communication techniques, problem-solving strategies, and self-soothing methods for managing distress.

sad guy

Internal family systems (IFS)

Internal Family Systems (IFS) is an innovative and highly effective psychotherapeutic approach for dealing with emotional trauma and traumatic memories. This form of therapy focuses on understanding how individuals experience emotions and relating those experiences to the way they interact with the world.

IFS is based on the idea that within every person exists an “inner family” of different parts or subpersonalities, each responsible for different aspects of a person’s life, such as feelings, relationships, and behavior patterns.

Through IFS therapy, individuals can explore these inner subpersonalities and gain insight into their behavior and motivations. The goal of IFS is to help clients gain insight and understanding into the underlying causes of their traumatic stress reactions and help them develop healthier ways of engaging with this “inner family.” In turn, this can help clients engage with themselves and the world around them in more helpful ways. 

This approach is particularly helpful for individuals who have experienced multiple traumatic events, complex trauma, or who are struggling with unresolved trauma from their past.

Recovering from trauma

The emotional trauma experienced by individuals can have a deep and lasting impact. No two people experience trauma in the same way, and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to recovery.

Everyone responds differently, so it’s important to find an approach that fits your unique needs and helps you build resilience. It is essential to understand the dynamics of this type of psychological wound in order to effectively manage it and recover from its effects.

Recovery from trauma is possible with patience and dedication. Utilizing effective coping strategies such as cognitive behavioral therapy, mindfulness meditation, or support groups can be beneficial for those wanting to heal from their emotional wounds.

Additionally, seeking professional assistance from a therapist or counselor may provide an additional layer of support during times when individuals need extra help on their path toward recovery.