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What Causes Trauma?

little girl and fear

How do I know if I have been traumatized?

The technical definition of trauma is exposure to a distressing event that exceeds one’s ability to cope, or repeated exposure to averse events that collectively exceeds one’s ability to cope. That’s a rather broad definition and is inherently subjective, making it somewhat difficult to understand. For example, events like driving in the snow in Portland may be overwhelming for some but not others. Because the experience of trauma is based on each of our unique reactions to stress, there is no standard list of events that are guaranteed to be traumatic.

Generally, you can tell if you have been traumatized by changes in your thinking, memory, behavior, emotions, and bodily reactions. Typically, these changes occur within 3 months of an event, but sometimes they can take several years to develop. There is no specific timeline on the development or symptoms of trauma.

What are the symptoms of trauma?

Symptoms of trauma tend to be broken down into five categories: Intrusion symptoms, Avoidance symptoms, Mood and Cognitive symptoms, Arousal symptoms, and Dissociative symptoms. People who have been traumatized may experience all of the symptoms, or just a few.

Intrusion Symptoms

  • Repeated involuntary memories of the event(s) that are distressing
  • Repeated distressing dreams in which the content or emotion are related to the event(s)
  • Flashbacks
  • Intense or prolonged mental or emotional distress when reminded of the event
  • Notable physiological reactions to any reminders of the event (extreme tenseness, panic, need to run away and shaking are common examples)

Avoidance Symptoms

  • Avoidance or efforts made to avoid memories, thoughts, or feelings associated with the event
  • Avoidance or efforts to avoid outside reminders of the event (people, places, conversations, situations, activities that are associated with the event)
  • Common avoidance behaviors include physically avoiding, refusing to engage, using distractions, or using substances

Mood and Cognitive Symptoms

  • Amnesia (inability to remember the event)
  • Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself
  • Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs about the others and the world
  • Distorted thoughts about the cause or consequence of the event(s) which cause the person to blame themselves
  • Struggling with negative emotional state (e.g., fear, shame, guilt, anger, horror, sadness, emptiness, irritability)
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Feeling detached or estranged from others
  • Difficulty experiencing positive emotions like joy, love, or satisfaction

Arousal Symptoms

  • Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling, or staying asleep, restless sleep, insomnia)
  • Feeling keyed-up and tense, excessive wariness, feeling the need to always know what’s going on around you, having a quick/exaggerated startle response
  • Problems with concentration and memory
  • Explosive sadness that seems to come from nowhere or with little provocation
  • Irritable behavior, angry outbursts (with no or little provocation); this can be expressed as verbal or physical aggression towards other people or objects
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior (e.g., excessive drug use, self-injury, dangerous driving, suicidal behavior)

Dissociative Symptoms

  • Disconnecting from the body, thoughts, feelings, sense of self, or memory
  • Depersonalization: Experience of feeling disconnected from the body; some people describe this as if they were watching their life as a movie from behind their eyes, or feeling like they are walking through a dream, or that time seems to be very slow
  • Derealization: Experience that the outside world seems fake, distorted, unreal or like a dream

Beyond these list of symptoms, it is not uncommon for people who have experienced trauma to also have challenges with the physical issues of headaches (including migraines), TMJ, feeling cold, and digestive problems.

What causes psychological trauma?

Psychological trauma can be caused by a single event or multiple distressing events. We can be exposed to trauma by directly experiencing it, witnessing it, learning about events that happened to someone close to us or a loved one (indirect trauma), or repeated exposure to secondary trauma (this is a challenge faced by EMTs, police officers, doctors, etc.).

Events that often lead to traumatic reactions include, but are not limited to:

  • Exposure to acts of war or violence, terrorism, school shootings, torture, being kidnapped or taken hostage
  • Threatened or actual physical assaults (mugging, fights, domestic abuse)
  • Threatened or actual sexual violence (rape, molestation, drug-induced sexual experiences, sex-trafficking, etc.)
  • In children, sexually violent behavior may include developmentally inappropriate sexual behavior that was done without physical contact
  • Natural and man-made disasters
  • Major accidents, catastrophic medical events (waking during surgery, anaphylactic shock)

Typically, when talking about indirect trauma, it involves an event that occurred to a loved one that was sudden, severe, or violent. For example, learning about a loved one’s suicide may cause a traumatic reaction, though if a loved one died by natural causes that would typically cause grief.

What if I suffered from childhood trauma?

The results from childhood trauma can be long-lasting, though still treatable. Children who experience trauma are more likely to experience developmental problems in later years and adulthood.

Common developmental challenges people with childhood trauma face are: concentrating in school or adulthood, reckless behavior, issues controlling temper, problems developing healthy boundaries in relationships, and acting out their trauma throughout life. It is common for people who grew up in an abusive household to date and marry people who are also abusive. Children who were sexually molested may display sexually inappropriate behavior as a child or in adulthood. Many times children who were traumatized can be misdiagnosed with ADHD. Childhood trauma also tends to increase the risk of developing a mental health disorder later in life, behavioral issues, or committing suicide.

Is all trauma direct or indirect within our lifespan?

Research is starting to show that trauma is not limited to just what happens to us. As psychology as a discipline in science grows, along with the discovery of epigenetics, we are learning that trauma can be intergenerational, or transgenerational. Research shows that communities exposed to war or genocide tend to pass on genes which increase the next generation’s susceptibility to low birth weights, stress, trauma, mental health issues, physical health issues, and chronic disease development. Research has gone on to show that this does not just happen from parent to child, but across multiple generations.

What are some other long-term effects of trauma?

Trauma as a whole makes us more susceptible to the development of mental and physical health issues. The experience of trauma correlates with the development of depression, anxiety, psychosis, addiction issues, personality disorders, chronic disease, heart-disease, respiratory-disease, and chronic pain.

When should I seek professional help for trauma?

If you have tried to heal yourself from trauma and are still feeling fear, anxiety or depression, it is a good idea to seek professional help. Even if you aren’t experiencing the symptoms, the research shows that early interventions tend to lead to better long-term prognoses with trauma. When your symptoms make your life at home, in relationships, personal development, or work difficult, it is a good idea to seek help.

What can therapy do for trauma?

Therapy can help with managing/reducing symptoms, healing long-term wounds, and helping you navigate life in a healthier way. In therapy, we can evaluate how trauma has affected the mindbody, teach coping skills, and learn methods to bring calm and relaxation into the mindbody. If you think you are struggling with traumatic reactions it is important to find a therapist who provides trauma-informed care.

Do I need insurance to see a therapist?

No. In fact, at Mindful Healing Portland LLC, we accept clients on a sliding scale. We are currently accepting clients for our sliding scale rates.

 

If you live in Portland or the Portland area and want information or help with Trauma,

E-MAIL US OR CALL US AT 503-878-8588 TO SCHEDULE YOUR INTAKE TODAY.

 

Counseling for Trauma in Portland

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What is trauma?

Trauma can be quite a loaded word, it means different things to different people. When talking about trauma with regards to mental health, it refers to a stressful event that exceeds one’s ability to cope (whether that’s our physical, psychological, social, or spiritual coping skills). This means our experience of a traumatic event is inherently personal; each person’s interpretation of stress and capacity to cope is different than everyone else’s, and our coping capacities change over time. A trauma can happen directly to you, be something that you witnessed, or even something that you heard about.

Trauma reactions can be physical, cognitive (in thought processes), emotional, or psychological. They are diverse, they can be intense, confusing, or debilitating. Common reactions to a trauma include feelings of helplessness, a diminished sense of self, or feeling keyed-up and tense. Other common reactions include fatigue, explosive, or diminish your ability to feel a full range of emotions. Sometimes trauma reactions disconnect the mind from the body, create a desire to isolate from others, create feelings of confusion, or cause anxiety.

Are there different types of trauma?

When we talk about trauma, we can think about trauma as being direct, or indirect. When we experience a direct trauma, the traumatic event directly happened to us. When we talk about indirect trauma that typically means we were exposed to the trauma by learning about it afterwards or from someone else.

There are all sorts of direct traumas. A surgery can be a type of trauma, and it is not uncommon after a surgery to experience a brief depressive episode. Witnessing a cyclist getting hit by a car in downtown Portland can be traumatic. Experiencing an act of sexual assault or violence can also be traumatic. Any stressful event that happens to you and overwhelms your ability to cope is a direct trauma.

Likewise, there are all sorts of types of indirect trauma (this is also commonly referred to as secondary trauma.) When a loved one tells us a harrowing story that happened to them, that can be traumatic. Reading about a nasty incident happening on the MAX in Portland can be traumatic. It is common in the medical field for doctors, nurses, therapists, and other health professionals to experience secondary trauma because the people they treat have been exposed to trauma. In some ways, trauma can be a communal response to a tragedy that has happened to someone within our community.

Are trauma reactions always the result of a singular event?

Traumatic reactions may stem for a singular event, or from repeated exposure to multiple stressful events in our lifetimes. Sometimes we are exposed to one incredibly stressful event, and that may result in developing acute stress symptoms or trauma related disorders, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Adjustment Disorder.

Likewise, experiencing a number of stressful events throughout our lifetime can cause trauma reactions. Think about this like the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Each of the stressful events in one’s lifetime on their own may not be traumatic, but the culmination of stressful events over time can in itself cause trauma reactions. This is often referred to as Complex Trauma.

What are the symptoms of trauma?

Symptoms of trauma can be quite diverse and change from person to person. Symptoms can be psychological, physical, emotional, and behavioral. Symptoms of trauma can be uncomfortable, cause distress, or impair functioning. Sometimes they result in clinical disorders.

Common emotional symptoms for trauma include sadness, anger, fear, guilt, worry, anxiety, shame, wariness, and irritability. Sometimes emotional reactions can be very sudden, without a seeming rhyme or reason, this includes bouts of crying or explosive anger that seems to come from nowhere.

Some common physical symptoms of trauma can include nausea, fatigue, dizziness, challenges with sleep, changes in appetite, headaches, muscle-tension, feeling keyed-up and tense, feeling cold, having the shakes or jitteriness, dissociative experiences, and gastrointestinal problems. With sleep, some challenges can include problems falling asleep, problems staying asleep, problems staying awake, insomnia, or hypersomnia.

Common psychological symptoms of trauma include intrusive thoughts and memories, difficulty with concentration, confusion, difficulty making decisions, distorted thought patterns, racing thoughts, feeling blank minded, nightmares, difficulty with relationships, or dissociative types of reactions. Dissociative symptoms refer to when the mind feels disconnected from the body (some people describe this feeling as if they were watching their life through a movie), or when the world around us feels fake.  

Adults can develop the following trauma disorders: Acute Stress Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Adjustment Disorders. Traumatic events can also lead to the development of Mood Disorders like Depression or Anxiety, or other complications with mental and physical health.

How does Portland, Oregon fit in?

Just like anywhere else in the world or the country, we here in Portland will be exposed to trauma. Unfortunately, we do not have access to good statistics about the prevalence of PTSD, and the experience of traumatic events here in Rip City. What we do know is that various studies nationwide suggest that about 60 to 70 percent of Americans will experience at least one major traumatic event in their lives, and about 8 percent of adults have PTSD at any given time. Oregon has the 16th highest rate of suicide in the country, another indicator that people in this state are struggling with the after-effects of trauma.

What can therapy do for trauma?

Therapy can do a lot for healing from and coping with trauma. In the context of therapy at Mindful Healing Portland LLC, we take a holistic approach. This involves creating a safe space to ground and work through trauma. In therapy, we can assess how trauma has affected the mindbody, teach grounding skills to work with somatic challenges (physical reactions), to bring more calm and relaxation into the body. We work on navigating changes in thinking and emotions, and identify coping mechanisms to develop some regulation in the mindbody, and ultimately work to heal psychic wounds. If you think you are struggling with traumatic reactions it is important to find a therapist who provides trauma-informed care.

Do I need insurance to see a therapist?

No. In fact, at Mindful Healing we accept clients on a sliding scale. We are currently accepting clients for our sliding scale rates.

 

If you live in Portland or the Portland area and want information or help with Trauma,

E-MAIL US OR CALL US AT 503-878-8588 TO SCHEDULE YOUR INTAKE TODAY.

 

What are Anxiety Disorders?

Stress Worry Woman with Text on White

What is an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety Disorders are the most common mental health issue in the United States. Anxiety disorders include a variety of conditions where excessive anxiety or fear cause significant distress or impairment in functioning at social, work, family, school or other domains of life. Anxiety disorders include: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks or Panic Disorder, Social Anxiety, Agoraphobia (fear of leaving the home), Phobias, Separation Anxiety, and Selective Mutism.  Some research suggests that here in Portland, Oregon people experience Anxiety Disorders and other mental health issues at the highest rates in the nation.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly 1/3rd of the population (32%) will experience an anxiety disorder within their lifetime.  19 percent of U.S. adults will experience an anxiety in any given year. A larger percentage of young adults (ages 18-44) 22% will experience an anxiety disorder in any given year. A smaller percentage of the population, 8%, will experience an anxiety disorder which severely impair quality of life. Female identified persons tend to experience anxiety disorders at a higher rate than male-identified folk.

What is the Difference Between Regular Anxiety and an Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety is a normal part of life. Anxiety is an activating emotion which helps us deal with a challenge, or fear in our future. Having a healthy concern about a situation can help you anticipate possible problems and discover better ways of handling them in advance.  However, people with anxiety disorders experience frequent worry or fear that interferes with everyday life, relationships, work, or it causes an inordinate amount of distress compared to normative anxiety.

What Causes Anxiety Disorders?

There is no one specific reason or cause of anxiety disorders, usually it involves a combination of things; chemical changes in your brain, traumatic events, environmental stress, coping skills which no longer work, or even your genes. These disorders can run in families, research estimates that about 1/3rd of the risk of developing an anxiety disorder is genetic. This is why it is important to identify a disorder in order to help understand behavior family dynamics and help the next generation. Given the fact that nearly 1/3rd of the population will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime, this also indicates that an anxiety disorder may be a normal human reaction to unhealthy or overwhelming circumstances.

What Can Therapy Do for Anxiety Disorder?

Generally speaking, when your world becomes limited due to fear or anxiety it is time to seek treatment. Anxiety can impact your relationships, health, sleep, or work. It can even impact the ability to learn, pursue new things, or feel comfortable in your own skin. Therapy can help in learning tools to promote relaxation, reduce emotional vulnerability, increase resiliency, as well as changing unhelpful thinking, emotional, and behavioral patterns to more helpful ones that empower you to control anxiety and lead the life you want to live.

Do I Need Insurance to See a Therapist?

No. In fact, at Mindful Healing we accept clients on a sliding scale. We are currently accepting clients for our sliding scale rates.

 

If you live in Portland or the Portland area and want information or help with Anxiety Disorder,

E-MAIL US OR CALL US AT 503-878-8588 TO SCHEDULE YOUR INTAKE TODAY.

 

What are the Different Types of Anxiety?

Silhouette of troubled person head.

Is Anxiety Normal?

Anxiety and panic are experienced by everyone to a certain degree. Concern and, in some cases, fear can be healthy and beneficial. We are biologically hard-wired to experience concern and fear when we are confronted with a challenge, a problem or danger.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) about 18 percent of U.S. adults will experience anxiety.

When Does Anxiety Become a Disorder?

The short answer is that anxiety is often considered a disorder when the anxiety and fears impact your everyday life. People with severe anxiety tend to become overwhelmed by their emotions and often cope by avoiding situations and experiences that trigger overwhelming emotions. This can almost cause a type of paralysis where most actions feel like they may lead to emotions that are overwhelming. When your anxiety impacts your health, relationships or work, you may want to seek help.

What are the Different Types of Anxiety Disorder?

The entire list of disorders is not limited to the bullet points below, but these are some of the general categories of anxiety disorder that therapy can help with.

  • General Anxiety Disorder: Persistence is the keyword. When you feel persistent worry or anxious despite everything you do, you could be experiencing General Anxiety Disorder. Many who experience General Anxiety Disorder have a constant sense that something bad is going to happen.
  • Panic Disorder: Sudden is the keyword. Panic Disorder is defined by sudden repeated episodes of feeling intense anxiety and fear. This feeling usually transfers to physical symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, pounding rapid heart-rate.
  • Specific Phobias: Fear is the keyword. Common phobias you may be familiar with are fear of spiders, fear of snakes, fear of heights and fear of flying. These objects or situations feel intrusive and distressing.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: Embarrassment and judgment are the keywords. Another word is rejection. A person experiencing Social Anxiety Disorder avoids social situations. For some eye contact or a greeting is overwhelming.
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Routines or rituals are the keywords. The two parts are Obsessive and Compulsive. When you have persistent uncontrollable thoughts is the Obsessive part, reacting with routines and rituals is the Compulsive Often portrayed as hand washing or turning a light switch off an exact amount of times—every time.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Trauma is the keyword. Made more aware by the trauma soldiers face in war this anxiety disorder is not limited to battlefields. Traumatization can happen from any experience that is extremely stressful and leaves you feeling helpless or emotionally out of control. Trauma can result in flashbacks, nightmares or frightening thoughts during the day.

How Does Therapy Help with Anxiety Disorders?

The biggest benefit to a therapist is identifying the disorder and the cause of anxiety. Therapy is a collaborative process. It is an opportunity for both you and your therapist to have a better understanding of yourself.

What Can I Expect from a Therapist?

Expect a lot of questions on your first visit. A Therapist is trained to diagnose anxiety disorders and teach patients healthier, more effective ways to cope. They will need to spend a lot of time learning about you to get to the root of your anxiety. You will also gain new skills to cope with your anxiety and have the ability to practice these new skills outside of the sessions. Anxiety disorders are very treatable. The majority of patients who suffer from anxiety are able to reduce or eliminate symptoms after several (or fewer) months of psychotherapy, and many patients notice improvement after just a few sessions.

Do I Need Insurance to see a Therapist?

No. In fact, at Mindful Healing we accept clients on a sliding scale. We are currently accepting clients for our sliding scale rates.

 

If you live in Portland or the Portland area and want information or help with Anxiety Disorder,

E-MAIL US OR CALL US AT 503-878-8588 TO SCHEDULE YOUR INTAKE TODAY.

 

Counseling for Anxiety in Portland

Thoughtful stressed young man with a mess in his head

What Is Anxiety Disorder?

Anxiety Disorders are more common than most people are aware of and Portland, Oregon is no different from any other city. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 18 percent of U.S. adults will experience anxiety. A larger percentage of adolescents, about 25 percent, also experience some form of anxiety. A smaller percentage experience what is considered severe anxiety disorder; 4 percent of adults and 6 percent of teens.

What is the Difference Between Regular Anxiety and Severe Anxiety?

Experiencing occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. Having a healthy concern about a situation can help you anticipate possible problems and discover better ways of handling them in advance.  However, people with severe anxiety disorders experience persistent worry and fear that may interfere with everyday life, relationships, and work.

What Causes Anxiety Disorder?

Researchers don’t know what brings on anxiety disorders, but it is usually a combination of things; chemical changes in your brain, environmental stress or even your genes. The disorder can run in families. This is why it is important to identify a disorder in order to help understand behavior from previous generations and help to be mindful of the next.

What Can Therapy Do for Anxiety Disorder?

Although there are multiple symptoms of anxiety disorder and different types of anxiety disorder, generally speaking, when your world becomes limited due to fears it is time to seek treatment. Anxiety can impact your relationships, health, sleep, or work. It can even impact the ability to learn and pursue new things.

Do I Need Insurance to See a Therapist?

No. In fact, at Mindful Healing we accept clients on a sliding scale. We are currently accepting clients for our sliding scale rates.

 

If you live in Portland or the Portland area and want information or help with Anxiety Disorder,

E-MAIL US OR CALL US AT 503-878-8588 TO SCHEDULE YOUR INTAKE TODAY.

 

Lessons and Reflections from a day at Occupy ICE PDX

If no one has told you this today dear reader, I love you. You are a miracle of nature, a child of light, and by your birthright you are entitled to love and compassion.

I have the privilege to volunteer my skills as a mental health counselor to heal and support the selfless volunteers protesting the caging of children, separation of families, and the intergenerational trauma being created to refugees at our border. For those of you unfamiliar with the Occupy Movement, it’s powerful. The people create self-sustaining communities with healthy meals, medical care, child care, wellness services, and so much more. There is so much love there, all for the cause of helping those less fortunate than themselves. I met some incredible souls and want to share just a few of their stories. Details about these people have been masked to preserve their confidentiality.

She was once a child immigrant herself, now she’s a proud citizen. She’s a mother, a Master’s student, and works to pay the bills; I’m in awe of anyone who just does one of those things. Her family fled the terrors of Soviet occupation to create a better life here in the United States. Though she is busy trying to create a better life for herself, she cannot stand idly by after learning about the horrors happening here that remind her of her childhood. I spoke to her about burnout, about the need to restore our energy, and held space for the historical trauma. Mostly, I marveled at her bravery and determination to do what she knows to be right despite all that is happening in her world. Her energy and passion is a gift to us all.

A grandfather now in his seventies made the drive from the other side of Oregon. Age has provided him wisdom in addition to aching bones and joints; he’s slept on the sidewalks, participated in active protests and is doing his part to contribute. He was arrested, cuffed, and taken to jail when armed DHS soldiers labeled police came to clear out part of the camp. They took his possessions, and did not return them to him upon his discharge from jail. This could have been an easy time to give up, wallow in his pain and losses and go back home, however he is committed to the cause: he cannot stand idly by knowing parent’s less fortunate than him have had their children ripped away, just for the crime of trying to find a better life. He was focused on the gifts he had to give, to make the world a better place and to share his love. It was an honor to meet such a loving and passionate soul.

A young man in his late twenties is marching the front lines. He stands face to face with DHS soldiers, provides emotional support to other volunteers, and remarks upon the horrors the children being held in Portland must be facing. He’s been going hard at the protests for a week straight. He’s also a victim of Portland’s housing crisis, works 2 jobs, and sleeps in his car. He barely has the means to take care of himself, yet he’s been spending all of his free time to give to the cause. He knows that the protest in itself is not enough, that the numbers need to grow, that facilitated action needs to be taken by the masses if we truly want justice. For evil wins when good people do nothing, and standing idly by in the face of injustice is always taking the side of the oppressor; cynicism and apathy are weapons of the oppressive forces; yet here he marches giving his all. I counseled him about wellness and energy, and making sure he was looking at the cause as a marathon on not a sprint. Mostly I was in awe of a man who has so little that can give so much. May we all have the gift of this man’s resilience and dedication to values in the face of adversity.

I had the privilege yesterday to be surrounded by a community of love. Love, is not just an abstract feeling, it is a verb. The Love acts with compassion, is giving, and sacrifices for the greater good. Love sets tough boundaries, holds space, acts when it would be convenient to step aside, and shines the light towards the path when others cannot see the way.

We all want companionship, compassion, to be part of a community, to be loved for who we are, to grow and thrive, and to feel part of something greater than ourselves. Children in cages and families fleeing from one terror to another don’t have those opportunities. Now is the time to act with love.

Vote, organize with your families, friends and community members, donate to a just cause, help those who cannot help themselves, volunteer. Write a song or some poetry, share your story, help those who have fallen, and redirect those who have lost their way. Feed the hungry, tend to the sick, and take care of yourself.

And if you haven’t heard it today, know that I love you. Thank you for reading.

Jon

Trauma and the Lasting Psychological Impact of the Current U.S. Border Policy

President Trump and his administration’s “zero tolerance policy” of migrants coming to the U.S. borders has separated thousands of children from their families. There are thousands of documents of abuse and neglect, reports of denying children the right to hug their siblings, and reports of children held naked, handcuffed and beaten. The current suffering has led parents to commit suicide. The trauma will last for generations.

What is Psychological Trauma?

Psychological trauma is a type of damage to the mindbody that happens as a result of either a singular distressing event – or a multitude of stressful events over time – that exceeds our ability to cope. This can include (but isn’t limited to): forced separation from one’s parents, physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, isolation, accidents, natural disasters, oppression, bullying, abandonment, or neglect. In fact, you can experience psychological trauma just by witnessing or learning about an event. In the case of secondary trauma, exposure to someone who has been traumatized becomes traumatic.

The Scars of Trauma

The basics of our stress response system is our fight-or-flight reaction. The mindbody can take this to extremes during traumatic events. When flight to safety isn’t possible, flight from the present can be the next step. In such cases the mind may detach from the body, turn inward, and withdraw from its connection to the present moment. If the fight instinct is activated it can project immense energy outward, expressed in tension, explosive emotions (like anger), thoughts, and behaviors in order to gain control.

When psychological trauma occurs the mind undergoes some fundamental changes in its assumptions of reality. The mind may learn lessons like: the world is unsafe, other people are threats, or that the self does not have the tools to cope with reality. The mind may rationalize that such traumatic events occur because the Self is evil, unloveable, incomplete, or deserving of trauma. These narratives shift people’s worldview and connection with the Self and as a result they become very sensitive to any sign of potential threats including: feeling trapped, close connections to others, isolation, or any physical, mental, or emotional reminders of the trauma.

As a whole psychological trauma disturbs thinking patterns, arousal, concentration, memory, sleep, appetite, attachment, and energy. Psychological trauma also makes the autonomic nervous system more sensitive to stressors, which makes it more difficult for people to regulate and self-soothe. Trauma can disrupt every phase of life. Below is a general list of acute stress symptoms, note that some people may only present with a few symptoms while others with many.

• Recurrent memories, thoughts, dreams, or nightmares that are about, or related in content to, the traumatic event(s)

• Flashbacks, feeling disconnected from body (some people describe it as though they are watching their life as it were a movie)

• The feeling that the world is fake/an illusion, or lack of awareness of surroundings.

• Attempts to avoid distressing thoughts, memories, emotions, or reminders about the event.

• Negative alterations of thoughts and mood. Inability to experience positive emotions

• Persistent negative beliefs or expectations about oneself or the world.

• Persistent negative emotional states: fear, horror, anger, guilt, sadness, shame, irritability.

• Loss of interest or reduced participation in normal activities

• Feeling detached or estranged from others.

• Amnesia about the events

• Explosive anger, irritability, or sadness/crying outbursts with little or no provocation.

• Reckless or self-destructive behaviors. Substance use to self-medicate.

• Feeling keyed up, tense, the need to know everything going on, constant worry

• Exaggerated startle responses

• Problems with concentration, or memory

• Impairment in social, work, school, family or other realms of functioning.

Everyone Experiences Traumatic Events, Why Doesn’t Everyone Have the Symptoms?

Not everyone who experiences traumatic events will develop psychological trauma. Genetics, environment, experience, coping mechanisms, vulnerability factors, and resources all play a role as far as how susceptible to trauma a person is.

Risk Factors Include

• Social Isolation of Families

• Not getting developmental needs met

• Poverty, economic disadvantage

• Family disorganization, dissolution, or violence

• Emotionally, physically, or sexually abusive caretakers

• Parental stress, Family History of Abuse

• Community Violence

• Parents/Grandparents were Traumatized

• Previous Exposure to Traumatic Events

Protective Factors Include

• A supportive and nurturing home environment

• Dependable and stable family relationships

• Receiving healthy affection

• Higher Socioeconomic Status

• Economic Stability

• Adequate housing

• Caring adults inside and outside family who provide nurture and act as role models

• Access to health care and community support

As for the thousands of migrants currently being held in detention, they come from areas where they are at an economic disadvantage, victims of violence, and are having a lack of family continuity. This means that the migrants who come to the U.S. borders are at elevated risk of experiencing trauma, and that the current policies remove protective factors and increase the risk of psychological trauma.

Impact of Trauma on Attachment and Relationships

People who have unhealed psychological trauma tend to have problems with interpersonal relationships. One challenge is that trauma interferes with people from communicating emotions in a socially acceptable manner. Trauma itself can prevent people from experiencing humor or joy. Emotions like sadness, anger, guilt, or anxiety are often interpreted by the mindbody to be a threat (as they are associated bad experiences) and thus can set off even more explosive reactions or a dissociative (withdrawing) responses. This makes it very difficult for people with psychological trauma to interact with others.

People who have unhealed psychological trauma tend to have problems with attachment. Some people who have experienced trauma try to keep people at a distance, for fear of being too vulnerable. Romantic relationships and friendships involve a certain level of intimacy. If someone developed the narrative that other people are dangerous, becoming close to someone is a threatening proposition. Alternatively, if someone incorporated the idea that they are unloveable, becoming closer to people means that those people might find out how unloveable they are, which represents the threat of abandonment. Withdrawal, flight, irritability, betrayal, and anger are often great tools for keeping people at a distance,

Other trauma reactions are to pull people in close. People who experience neglect, isolation, or abandonment as a trauma might cling closely to those who they connect with, for fear of abandonment again. Anxiety, worry, excessive kindness and even self-harm are frequently tools used to try deepen connections. Unfortunately, such reactions usually push people away. Other people experience a confusing mix of both reactions where they both crave and fear closeness to others. This process is sometimes referred as disorganized attachment.

People who experience psychological trauma are more likely to enter into abusive relationships. They tend to have more problems with romantic relationships, friendships, and authority figures compared to other people. Given the trauma of loss of family, the abuse by jailers, and the horrors faced at home, the children being held in detention facilities here in the U.S. are more likely to develop all of these social problems.

The Impact of Trauma on Learning

Psychological trauma causes problems with thinking clearly, reasoning, and problem solving. The traumatized mind’s default is crisis mode. It has learned that the world is unsafe and needs to be aware of potential threats. It does this by identifying and criticizing problems of the past, analyzing potential threats in the present, or anticipating catastrophes of the future. As a result people who have experienced trauma have problems staying calm, regulating behavior, and learning new information.

All of this brain activity makes it incredibly difficult to concentrate, let alone navigate the rigors of education. Children who have a history of trauma demonstrate developmental delays, learning difficulties, and behavioral problems in school. Without an intervention they are less likely to achieve in the academic realm, and more likely to have problems achieving stable, high paying employment.

The children being held in detention already had a socioeconomic disadvantage when they arrived at the U.S. border. The current policy and environments these children and their parents are being held in makes it worse. Remember, some of the risk factors for developing psychological trauma include economic disadvantage and having parents who experienced trauma. The current policy of treating immigrants like prisoners is more likely to create psychological trauma not just for those being held, but also their future children. This type of policy manufactures inter-generational trauma.

Impact of Trauma on Mental Health

In short, psychological trauma is bad for mental health. The negative worldview, self-view, and hyper-arousal trauma creates leads to all sorts of mental health issues. People who have a history of psychological trauma are more prone to volatile, oppositional, and extreme behaviors. Emotionally they tend to be prone to defensiveness, aggression, spaciness, and difficulty regulating emotions. They are also more likely to demonstrate dangerous behaviors like self-harm, unsafe sex, recklessness, substance use, and suicide. There is plenty of data which demonstrates that childhood trauma alters brains development.

Children who experience trauma are more likely to develop the following types mental health disorders later in life: Schizophrenia (and other psychotic disorders), Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depressive Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Eating Disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Personality Disorders. As a clinician who has worked on healing with hundreds of people who navigate hallucinations, delusions, or personality disorders I have yet to meet a person experiencing such a disorder that was not exposed to childhood trauma.

Poor mental health does not just cause psychological suffering and problems with functioning, it is associated with increased risk of physical health issues as well. People with mental health issues are at increased risk for heart-disease, diabetes, and inflammatory conditions. People diagnosed with serious mental illness (schizophrenia spectrum, bipolar disorder, or severe depression) have a decreased life expectancy by 20 years.

Impact of Current Policies as a Whole

In this article we explored the nature of psychological trauma, its effects on the mindbody, and the long-term outcomes. The Trump administration’s current policies are traumatic acts that will cause lasting harm. Indefinite detention, keeping people in cages, and family separation, of migrants who are already fleeing violence will cause the development mental and physiological health problems. These policies are likely to cause economic and academic, and long-lasting inter-generational trauma. It is impossible to tell the totality of suffering this is creating now. Reuniting families, ending indefinite detention, and creating humane solutions that involve healing, nurturing, and hope is essential for our collective health in the present and the future.

Resources

This page includes list of crisis numbers, books, wellness practitioners we recommend, and other resources we think are valuable.

Mental Health Crisis Numbers

Multnomah County Crisis Line: 503-988-4888

National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-873-825

Crisis Text Line: 741741 – Type CONNECT to get connected

 

Helpful Articles

What is Stress?

Guidelines for Healthy Conflict in Relationships

Mental Health Disorders are Stress Reactions

How-to guide for quick mindful breathing

Video: Guided Body Scan Practice for Relaxation

Wellness Practitioners We Recommend

Baby Nest Birth Services: Baby Nest Birth Services provide Birth and Postpartum Doulas, Birthing Classes, Placenta Encapsulation and more! Check them out at  https://babynestbirth.com/

Just a Few of the Books We Recommend (in no particular order)

The Mindfulness Solution by Ronald D. Siegel

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor

When the Body Says No by Gabor Mate

The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

Act with Love by Russ Harris

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown

Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling

Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Journey to Ixtlan by Carlos Castaneda