The body responds to traumatic experiences in a variety of ways. Some people have a framework of protective factors that allows them to cope with adverse situations in a healthy way. Yet, others may struggle to handle the distressing symptoms they’re faced with following a traumatic event.
Common Trauma-Based Diagnoses
Anxiety and depression are two common concerns that arise after someone experiences a traumatic event. The fear that another similar event could happen can cause a pervasive sense of anxiety, as can feeling as though one must always be on the lookout for danger. When a traumatic experience includes significant suffering, or witnessing the significant suffering of others, it can trigger depression.
As the distressing symptoms begin to worsen, people will inherently want to find relief. Unfortunately, this relief sometimes comes in the form of using drugs or alcohol. Using substances allows people to feel numb to their experiences and dissipates the presence of the negative symptoms. However, this relief is temporary. As the effects of the substances begin to wear off, the symptoms re-emerge, leading the person to consume the substances again. This cyclical pattern can rapidly turn into an addiction, ultimately causing more problems and a greater sense of defeat
Coping with the Effects of Trauma
Our ability to cope with the effects of trauma stems from a number of areas. Some people are raised in nurturing environments where they are provided with ample support, while others may be raised in an environment where that support is not offered. A nurturing environment can aid a person in developing healthy coping skills, allowing them to have a less devastated response to a traumatic event. Yet, people who have grown up in a less-than-nurturing environment are still capable of having positive coping skills that give them the ability to successfully manage distressing symptoms following a traumatic event.
Causes of Trauma
This brings to light the long-standing debate of nature versus nurture. We all have inherent traits passed down through genes and hereditary factors that play a role in molding who we are and how we respond to various situations, including traumatic circumstances. This can mean that if we grow up in an environment that lacks positive social interaction and healthy emotional cues, we are not instantly subjected to a lack of coping skills when faced with trauma if our genetics have formed us to respond with strength and resilience.
But our genes may dictate the opposite. We may inherit traits that cause us to have personalities that do not respond well to traumatic circumstances. That combined with a positive, nurturing environment can still lead to a negative reaction when faced with trauma.
Our environment can hurt, but our environment can also heal. Our genes can be of benefit, or they can be of detriment. This leads to an educated assumption that both nature and nurture play a role in forming who we are. And who we are guides how we react to the situations we experience.
One example that demonstrates this correlation is that of identical twins who are separated at birth. Identical twins have the exact same genes, but if they are physically separated, the environments in which they grow are different. A positive developmental experience can lead to positive coping skills, while a negative developmental experience can prevent those coping skills from forming. Therefore, the way that they respond to similar circumstances can be very different.
Regardless of one’s hereditary traits and the environment in which they are raised, experiencing a traumatic event causes a disruption in the balance of the brain’s neurons. For many, this means that professional treatment is warranted in order to determine the severity of symptoms, and to teach how to handle distressing effects.