When trauma goes untreated, it can impact all aspects of your life, manifesting as a variety of different symptoms.
Trauma impacts the physical body by decreasing a sense of trust and safety, which increases fear and worry. Common symptoms include a racing heart, hyper-vigilance, exaggerated startle response, sleep difficulties, headaches, increased stress, change in appetite, low energy, and sexual dysfunction. Research also links trauma with physical health problems.
Trauma is at the root of some of the most painful emotional symptoms, including anxiety, fearfulness, and phobias, as well as worry and panic attacks. Depression, hopelessness, excessive guilt, and shame are very common. Feeling trapped, powerless, and inadequate, as well as struggling to overcome grief are also commonly symptoms of trauma.
Trauma plays a major role in shaping your belief system and typically underlies negative thinking patterns. It’s not uncommon to also experience difficulties with concentration, memory, decision making, and being easily distracted.
Spirituality is a core component of human nature, which shapes and informs our sense of meaning, purpose, hope, and faith. It is a foundation, guide, and motivation for morality, personal growth, and service to others. Most people, whether they believe in a deity or not, believe that to be fully human involves more than simply the physical dimensions of existence.
Traumatic events are usually sudden, unexpected, and very frightening. They can cause us to feel unsafe, out of control, isolated, “damaged”, or “dirty”, and/or to lose trust in other people. It’s not surprising that traumatic events may also cause us to question the fundamental beliefs and assumptions that are connected to our deepest sense of meaning and purpose in life – to our spirituality.
Common spiritual symptoms of trauma include:
- Altered worldview – Your view of God, who you are in relationship to God, and how the world works, can change after exposure to a traumatic event. For example, trauma may cause you to question assumptions about the world – such as “bad things don’t happen to good people” – that you weren’t even fully aware that you held.
- Troubling existential questions – Traumatic events can cause you to struggle with questions and issues related to suffering, evil, forgiveness, fairness, hope, justice, purpose, and divine order.
- A loss of a sense of meaning and coherence in life – Traumatic events often raise personal questions related to what life is all about and what’s really important to you. It’s not uncommon to doubt your deepest beliefs, feel empty, and/or feel that life has lost its meaning and coherence.
- A sense of discouragement and loss of hope – This can express itself through feelings of depression, painful questioning, and/or cynicism.
- Alienation and a loss of a sense of connection – You can feel isolated, or have a sense of being cut off from the connection you feel to the source of your deepest sense of meaning and purpose (whether that be God, nature, a life-force, or other people).
Due to the uncomfortable symptoms that trauma creates, there can be a powerful attraction to mask these symptoms through addictive and compulsive behaviours with alcohol, drugs, food, sex, gambling, for example.
Trauma often occurs within the context of relationships (eg, abuse, rejection, humiliation, criticism, controlling behaviors) and these issues often get repeated, triggered, or played out in your intimate relationships. Common symptoms include arguments, conflict, and hostility; isolation and withdrawal; sexual problems, extreme fear of abandonment, and attempts to control others.
PTSD is an anxiety disorder that develops after a terrifying event in which physical harm occurred or was threatened. During the traumatic incident that caused the PTSD, the person experiences intense fear, a sense of helplessness, and horror. People suffering from PTSD typically startle easily, experience emotional numbing and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy, and struggle with insomnia, flashbacks, and nightmares. PTSD often occurs with anxiety, depression and substance abuse, and has been linked to physical health problems.