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The Impact of Trauma on Self: Understanding the Effects

African man sitting on bed with his hand on head looking unhappy

Trauma has lasting effects on behavior and a person’s perspective of the world. When you experience an intense, distressing event, emotional trauma is the lasting response to the stress of that experience.

It can leave you struggling with self-esteem, expressing your feelings, and forming or maintaining relationships. It can even result in an intimacy disorder, like sex addiction or pornography addiction

When you compulsively engage in sexual activities or watch porn enough that you become dependent on it, it’s considered an addiction. 

Trauma and intimacy disorders don’t just affect your interactions with others and the outside world. The impact of trauma on your self-perspective causes lasting distress.

Understanding Trauma

Any event or series of events that puts you or another person at risk or in harm’s way can be traumatic. 

Those affected by emotional trauma struggle to respond appropriately in stressful situations and see the world as an unsafe place. That’s because trauma affects your brain chemistry. It puts your brain into flight or fight mode, making you feel a rush of adrenaline, spiked cortisol levels, and fear. You go on autopilot, only able to perform basic functions to survive the trauma. 

This disconnect can make it difficult to process the emotions. Your brain’s defense mechanisms block you from responding “normally.” 

Trauma affects everyone differently. Reactions may be opposite from one person to the next. 

Trauma symptoms may stem from: 

  • A One-Time Event. This is something that only happens once but affects you long after, like a violent attack or a car accident. These events can be particularly traumatic if they occur in childhood. 
  • Continuous Stress. This can look like living in an abusive household or a crime-ridden neighborhood, experiencing bullying, or living with a chronic illness.
  • Often Overlooked Sources. While they may not seem like obvious indicators because of their commonality, they are still traumatic and should be noted. This can include a breakup of a significant relationship, pregnancy, or invasive surgery. 

Other events that can cause trauma include:

  • Physical violence
  • Sexual assault
  • Verbal or emotional abuse
  • Child neglect
  • Racism or bullying
  • Witnessing death
  • Experiencing terrorism 
  • Military combat 
  • Enduring a natural disaster
  • Being part of a cult

The Emotional Impact of Trauma

The impact of trauma may be subtle to an outside observer or clearly visible. Two people who experience the same traumatic event can have vastly different reactions. 

For most people, it affects their ability to cope. You can experience flashbacks, confusion, and memory loss.

Your brain is trying to protect you from the trauma, so it goes on the defense. 

Emotional symptoms include:

  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Denial
  • Anxiety
  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Confusion
  • Shock
  • Restlessness
  • Numbness
  • Hopelessness
  • Hypervigilance
  • Difficulty concentrating 

The Physical Impact of Trauma

Emotional trauma also impacts your body. Some people are surprised to find that distress in the brain also manifests in physical symptoms.

Physical symptoms include: 

  • Rapid breathing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Digestive issues
  • Persistent crying

Immediate, automatic responses to trauma may include:

  • Fight. Responding physically by struggling, fighting, and verbally saying “no.”
  • Freeze. Feeling paralyzed or unable to move.
  • Flight. Physically moving away from the traumatic event by running, hiding, or moving away.
  • Fawn. Trying to appease someone else, likely the person causing the trauma, even at your own detriment.

The Behavioral Impact of Trauma

When symptoms of trauma worsen to the point of controlling your daily life and relationships, it’s debilitating. You start to look at the world differently, fearing interactions or experiences that could cause those negative feelings to worsen. You can feel anxious and depressed and experience panic attacks and flashbacks.

Trauma affects your perception of yourself and the world around you. It’s difficult to be present in experiences or with others when your mind feels trapped in the past. 

Trauma impacts self by:

  • Destroying your sense of self and safety
  • Making it difficult to trust others
  • Feeling a loss of control or free will
  • Losing your sense of identity 
  • Struggling with intimacy 
  • Experiencing a disconnect from your body
  • Having feelings of worthlessness
  • Causing dissociation 

Attempts at coping with emotional trauma on your own may have felt fruitless. It can feel like your brain is actively working against you. Healthy coping mechanisms no longer work. 

When this is the case, many people turn to adverse strategies that provide a burst of dopamine. Dopamine is the pleasure chemical in your brain. It offers release from your brain’s fight or flight mode. But when you rely on dopamine to relieve the pain, it becomes your conditioned response. It consumes you and can result in behavioral concerns, including angry outbursts, failed relationships, withdrawals, and addictions.

When the behaviors become compulsive, like obsessively masturbating, watching porn, or engaging in sexual activities, trauma results in a sex addiction. When you can’t control sexual thoughts or urges, it can impact your health, relationships, finances, or career. 

Healing From the Impact of Trauma

Trauma takes time, patience, and often professional help to overcome. The first step is acknowledging that something bad happened to you, and its impact has caused you great distress. 

A mental health professional can help you identify any behaviors that likely stem from unresolved trauma, uncover the root cause, and unlearn those behaviors. 

At-home practices for healing from trauma include:

  • Confide in a trusted friend or loved one
  • Connect with others who understand your experience 
  • Practice self-care: get enough sleep, exercise, eat nutritious food, and practice proper hygiene 
  • Journal about stressors
  • Avoid substance use
  • Practice mindfulness or meditation
  • Invest in hobbies or activities you enjoy
  • Don’t be afraid to accept help

Some people require a higher level of care beyond therapy and self-care practices. Begin Again Institute offers specialized treatment programs for men experiencing sex addiction, pornography addiction, and other intimacy disorders. Our individualized treatment programs help you understand addiction and gain the skills you need to change your behaviors for good.

Begin Again Institute offers:

In our programs, we employ multiple treatment modalities for an individualized and trauma-focused approach to care and healing.

Help at Begin Again Institute

Trauma doesn’t heal overnight. It takes time, patience, and often professional help to overcome.

At Begin Again Institute, we approach treatment with an understanding of trauma and work to address the root cause of the addiction. Just treating the symptoms won’t bring long-term solutions. We help you make the connection between trauma and your responses, so you can learn the skills to stop the harmful behavior. 

Tackling addiction can be a long, challenging journey. That’s why our programs are designed to help you heal in a judgment-free zone. To learn more about our successful treatment options, give us a call today and take the first step toward healing.

  • Category: Mental Health
  • By Begin Again Institute
  • May 17, 2024

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