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Understanding Emotional Trauma

Man sitting on the floor with hand on his face looking depressed

Everyone experiences traumatic events in their life. A car wreck. The death of a pet or loved one. Even losing a job, moving, or a difficult breakup can be traumatic. People adjust to most of these traumatic happenings and are able to move forward with their lives. But sometimes, the trauma is so severe or repetitive or makes such an indelible impact that it stays with a person. 

When left unresolved, emotional trauma can cause deep wounds and lead to adverse attempts at coping with negative feelings. Trauma is the root cause of most intimacy disorders, including sex and pornography addictions. The betrayal these addictions cause also can result in trauma. 

Begin Again Institute is here to help you understand emotional trauma and how it impacts you. If you’re experiencing an intimacy disorder, sex addiction, pornography addiction, or betrayal trauma, we can help you heal and stop these negative outcomes.

What is Emotional Trauma?

Emotional trauma is the lasting emotional response to experiencing a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events. A traumatic event is a death or near-death experience or a happening that makes you feel emotionally or physically under attack or unsafe.

These events can occur as a child or an adult, but they leave a lasting impact on your mind, creating fear and distrust and leaving you poised to fight or flee a situation at any moment. In other words, they leave you constantly emotionally on edge, and ready to defend yourself. 

Trauma can affect your emotional, mental, and physical well-being, sometimes without you even realizing that what you’re feeling isn’t typical to others. It can impact every part of your life, including your feelings and behaviors.

Traumatic experiences may include:

  • Physical or verbal abuse
  • Sexual assault or rape
  • Neglect
  • Loss of a loved one and grief
  • Car wrecks or other accidents
  • Serious or chronic illness 
  • Racism or other discrimination
  • Bullying
  • Natural disasters
  • Witnessing a crime or death
  • Military and combat experiences

Everyone is exposed to various traumas in their lives, but their responses aren’t uniform, even when they experience the same traumatic event. That’s because people process trauma differently. 

For example, a married couple can lose their house to a fire. One partner may move on with their life, grateful that everyone was safe from the fire and they had insurance. The other may experience lingering fear and feelings that they aren’t safe, even when they logically know they are. These emotional effects can worsen over time if left untreated.

Who is Prone to Emotional Trauma?

No one is immune to the possibility of experiencing emotional trauma. Traumatic experiences happen to everyone, and anyone can experience the negative emotional fallout of those happenings, regardless of your demographic profile or professional status. However, there are certain factors that may make a person more vulnerable to emotional trauma.

Factors that make a person more prone to experiencing emotional trauma include:

  • Age. People under the age of 25 may be more at risk because their brains are not fully developed and capable of processing emotions in the same way as older adults.
  • Trauma History. People who have previous experience with trauma are more likely to have an emotional response once traumas begin to stack up, especially if they repeatedly experience the same traumatic happening.
  • Support. People without social support or with limited support are more likely to experience negative emotions because they don’t feel cared for by others or have people to talk to about their experiences.
  • Mental Health. People with existing mental health conditions are more likely to experience emotional trauma than those without.
  • Impact. If someone is injured in a traumatic event(s) or has other negative fallout, like homelessness, for example, they are more likely to experience negative emotional affects as well.
  • Upbringing. People who grew up with caregivers who had untreated emotional trauma or who experienced mental illnesses and/or addiction are more likely to experience it than those who grew up in “stable” home environments.

While these factors might make a person more prone to experiencing emotional trauma, they aren’t a declaration that it will happen. Personal resilience, temperament, and an ability to process negative events play a huge role in whether a person experiences emotional trauma following exposure to a traumatic event.

Signs and Symptoms of Emotional Trauma

Trauma symptoms differ for various people, just like responses to traumatic events do. In general, trauma symptoms are psychological, physical, and behavioral. 

Trauma alters the way your mind works, which leads to various psychological symptoms. People who experience these symptoms for less than three months are thought to have an adjustment disorder and are able to self-regulate. Symptoms likely indicate a more significant emotional concern if symptoms go on longer.

Psychological symptoms of trauma may include:

  • Dissociating or feeling disconnected from your body
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Depression
  • Fear and concerns for safety, even when they aren’t warranted
  • Hypervigilance, or being on edge or adopting excessive behaviors
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Having flashbacks of the traumatic happening
  • Hopeless and loss of joy
  • Suicidal ideation

Many people think of trauma as being in the mind, not the body. But your mind and body are connected, so things that impact one part of you also affect others. 

Physical symptoms of trauma may include:

  • Changes in sleep patterns, either sleeping too much or experiencing insomnia
  • Being easily startled
  • Changes in appetite
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Not feeling physically well without an apparent medical reason

Behavioral symptoms are relatively unpredictable because people act in varying ways to try to cope with their trauma symptoms. Some common behavioral symptoms include angry outbursts, withdrawing, or an inability to relate to others. 

Many people turn to alcohol or drugs to attempt to cope with trauma. They may also neglect their responsibilities or engage in risky behaviors outside their character.

Intimacy disorders, including sex addiction or pornography addiction, can form as a result of trying to stay at arm’s length from others and attempting to cope with the adverse effects of trauma. 

Matt Wenger, Clinical Director at Begin Again Institute, said intimacy disorders are almost always rooted in trauma, specifically trauma that occurs before the age of 20.

“It can lead to negative core beliefs, such as ‘I am not worthy of love’ or ‘I’m bad,’” he said. “The pain of these traumas can also lead to negative coping that one may feel the need to hide from others and thus widening the gap further and confirming to themselves the negative beliefs they already had.”

The Impact of Betrayal

The relationship between intimacy disorders and trauma is an interesting one because trauma can be both the root cause and the result of intimacy issues. In that way, the person with the disorder was betrayed by what happened to them. Then, they cause betrayal trauma in their loved ones because of the way they respond to the trauma. In short, hurt people hurt people, and the trauma cycle continues.

Betrayal trauma refers to the emotional pain a person experiences after someone they trust betrays them. The result is that the person may question their judgment and feel like they can’t trust anyone again.

Betrayal trauma results in the same symptoms as other forms of emotional trauma, and it’s treated in much the same way. 

Symptoms of betrayal trauma may include:

  • Inability or difficulty identifying or describing your emotions
  • Feeling “out of it,” like you’re in a fog  
  • Depression or feelings of hopelessness 
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Hypersensitivity 
  • Dissociation or feeling like you’re outside of yourself
  • Experiencing panic or anxiety attacks
  • Withdrawing socially 
  • Intrusive thoughts, memories, or nightmares of when you discovered the betrayal
  • Physical symptoms like headaches, chronic fatigue, gastrointestinal issues, or a weakened immune system
  • Insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, or problems staying asleep
  • Developing a substance use disorder or a reliance on substances, such as drugs or alcohol
  • Eating too much or not enough; sometimes results in disordered eating 
  • Difficulty trusting others 

Matt said partners often feel like something is off in their relationship before they discover the intimacy disorder or addiction.

“They report feeling rejected, unloved, or ignored,” he said. “While others feel a pervasive unease or confusion that they try to ignore. 

“When the addiction is discovered, partners react, understandably, with a mix of sadness, anger, hurt, and feelings of betrayal. This discovery is traumatic and the damage — the loss of safety and trust — can take years to heal.”

Healing from betrayal trauma is just as important as healing from any other type of trauma. It won’t heal on its own or just go away, and it’s likely to continue negatively impacting your life if you don’t recover properly.

Healing from Emotional Trauma

The first step in healing is to recognize that you’re experiencing it. After that, it’s vital to understand how trauma is manifesting in your life. This may include understanding the link between trauma and sex addiction or another intimacy disorder. 

The best way to determine whether you’re experiencing trauma and begin to understand how it’s impacting your life and behaviors is by seeking help from a mental health professional. This expert can help you identify or uncover the trauma and begin healing from it. They also can assist you in overcoming negative behaviors resulting from adverse attempts at coping.

Therapies for treating trauma may include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. CBT is a type of talk therapy that involves identifying and challenging unhelpful thoughts. It can help you develop healthy coping strategies to meet challenges or triggers head-on and reduce symptoms.
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. EMDR uses eye movements or other forms of rhythmic, left-right stimulation to treat trauma by helping you reprocess the memory in a new way.
  • Brainspotting. Brainspotting works by identifying, processing, and releasing core sources of trauma. The aim is to identify trauma by examining how it manifests in your body.
  • Group Therapy. These therapies foster community and support by offering a platform for sharing experiences and coping strategies.
  • Mindfulness Therapy. Mindfulness teaches techniques to stay grounded in the current moment, enhancing emotional regulation and fostering a deeper sense of calm and focus.

Trauma-focused treatment will likely include various modalities depending on your unique situation and needs. 

Begin Again Institute’s Approach to Treating Emotional Trauma

At Begin Again Institute, we offer highly specialized, trauma-focused care for sex addiction, pornography addiction, and other intimacy disorders. What that means for you is that we understand the relationship between trauma and addiction, and we use that knowledge throughout your treatment.

We employ Certified Sex Addiction Therapists (CSATs), who have special training to work with people with sex addiction and their partners. These CSATs have expert knowledge of the underlying trauma, experiences, and emotional wounds related to sex addiction.

Our CSATs use the Trauma-Induced Sexual Addiction model or TINSA® model for sex addiction treatment. It’s a neurobiological approach that helps clients understand the way their mind and body respond to trauma and process that trauma. We combine this approach with various treatment modalities, like the ones described above, and your unique needs to offer you the best chance at healing and recovery.

Whether through our 14-Day Men’s Intensive or our Boulder Recovery 14-Day Christian Men’s Intensive, we have the help you need to heal from trauma and stop harmful behaviors.

BAI also offers a free virtual Partner Support Program to help your loved one heal from betrayal trauma, helping you both stop the trauma cycle.

Live Without Emotional Trauma

You don’t have to live with the weight of emotional trauma anymore. You can heal yourself — mentally and physically — and stop behaviors that are negatively impacting your life. You aren’t responsible for what happened to you, but you are empowered to repair the results. Contact Begin Again Institute today to discuss your next steps toward healing.

  • Category: Mental Health
  • By Begin Again Institute
  • April 5, 2024

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