The Effects of Trauma

Educating and equipping through compassionate connection

The effects of trauma

There are different experiences of trauma, from a traumatic childbirth to traumatic childhood abuse, sexual violation, acts of war, and even to the historical trauma of an oppressed population.

What we know, is that trauma from any source affects the brain of the victim. There are changes to the structure and function of someone who is grappling with a traumatic experience. Thanks to MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) we can actually see the changes that occur deep in the brain in the limbic system. This is the part of our brain that involves our instinct, our emotions and moods, motor skills and navigation, and how we learn and remember things. These changes help us to understand some of the symptoms of trauma. It also means that trauma is much like a brain injury.

The effects of trauma are as varied as the individuals that carry this trauma. Some of the more common experiences of traumatised parents include:

  • Difficulty doing things that used to be easy – for some it means then can’t return to work
  • Forgetfulness and trouble remembering things
  • Not knowing whom to trust anymore
  • Relationship and marriage issues
    • divorce is higher after trauma
    • there is more partner violence
    • partners are more likely to be experiencing trauma too, called secondary trauma
  • Being more aggressive with one’s children
  • Higher rates of mental health and behavioural issues in the children
  • Sleep troubles, especially insomnia and nightmares.
  • Health problems, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, chronic pain, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, gastrointestinal illness, and cancer
  • More thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts
  • Future obstetrical problems, such as preterm birth and low birth weight

If parents have experienced a traumatic birth, they are much less likely to have another child, even if they wanted more children. If they do decide to have another child, they wait much longer than others.

The symptoms of trauma

A traumatic birth doesn’t necessarily mean the parent will develop PTSD or other health issues. In fact, most individuals that experience severe trauma don’t develop PTSD along with the brain injury that marks PTSD. But for those that do, they are now dealing with the symptoms of trauma. The symptoms of trauma are:

  • Intrusive memories, including flashbacks and nightmares
  • Avoidance, including the place where it happened and the people involved – possibly even the baby
  • Negative thoughts and moods
  • Arousal, always being ‘on guard’ or extra ‘jumpy’
  • A change in one’s functional capacity, including having difficulty with work, hobbies, driving, reading and writing, and relationships

The symptoms of trauma can last for months or years. Even those with PTSD can find that they heal over time even without therapy. In a few studies, it was found that almost half of individuals with PTSD could recover without therapy.

Most people with trauma find that there are certain triggers that make their symptoms worse. Triggers are anything that reminds the sufferer of the event. A trigger might be the smell of a hospital, a birth shown in a movie, feelings of helplessness, or even the baby’s birthday. Over time, most sufferers find ways to avoid and lessen the impact of various triggers.

You can review the references for the above information here.