Nine ways trauma can change a person

Trauma, whether stemming from a single catastrophic event or prolonged exposure to distressing circumstances, has a profound effect on your mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing.

The aftermath of trauma goes beyond the immediate experience, reshaping how a person perceives themselves and the world around them. In this article, we examine nine ways trauma can fundamentally change an individual and how Houston Intensive Outpatient can help.

What is trauma?

Before we explore how trauma can change you, let’s understand exactly what it is. Trauma is when we experience exceptionally stressful, scary or distressing events that we find difficult to cope with, or make us feel out of control.

Trauma can be a single incident, or an ongoing event (or series of events) that take place over a period of time. Most of us will experience at least one event in our lives that we find traumatic.

If events are particularly traumatic, we can experience post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for them. As many as 6% of people will experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

If we’ve been exposed to high levels of stress over a longer period of time – an abusive relationship perhaps, or sustained workplace bullying – we can be left with complex post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).

Nine ways trauma can change you

Trauma is a powerful force that can reshape you in myriad ways, influencing your perceptions, emotions, relationships, and overall wellbeing. Understanding the diverse impacts of trauma is crucial for supporting people on their journey toward healing and recovery.

With empathy, therapeutic intervention, and a supportive environment, individuals can navigate the transformative effects of trauma and work towards reclaiming a sense of agency, resilience, and a renewed connection with themselves and others.

Here nine ways trauma can change you.

1) Cognitive changes

Trauma can impact cognitive processes, affecting memory, concentration, and decision-making. Some individuals may experience intrusive thoughts or memories related to the traumatic event, while others may struggle with cognitive impairments such as difficulty focusing or making decisions.

2) Altered perception of safety

Trauma can shatter an individual’s sense of safety. Once-established feelings of security may be replaced by heightened vigilance, fear, and an underlying belief that the world is unpredictable and threatening. Trust in oneself and others may become challenging to rebuild.

3) Impact on emotional regulation

Trauma can disrupt emotional regulation, leading to intense and unpredictable emotional responses. Individuals may struggle with mood swings, heightened irritability, or emotional numbness as they grapple with the aftermath of traumatic experiences.

4) Changes in interpersonal relationships

The ability to form and maintain healthy relationships may be compromised. Trauma survivors may struggle with trust issues, have difficulty expressing vulnerability, or exhibit patterns of avoidance to protect themselves from potential emotional harm.

5) Physical health consequences

The effects of trauma extend beyond the psychological realm, impacting physical health. Chronic stress resulting from trauma can contribute to a range of physical health issues, including cardiovascular problems, digestive disorders, and compromised immune function.

6) Self-perception and identity

Trauma can deeply influence an individual’s sense of self. Negative beliefs about one’s worth, guilt, or shame may take root. A trauma survivor might view themselves through the lens of the traumatic experience, affecting self-esteem and identity.

7) Adaptive coping mechanisms

In response to trauma, individuals may develop adaptive coping mechanisms. While some coping strategies may be healthy, such as seeking therapy or support, others may involve substance abuse, self-harm, or other maladaptive behaviors as a way to manage overwhelming emotions.

8) Hypervigilance and avoidance

Trauma survivors often experience hypervigilance, a state of heightened awareness and alertness, as well as avoidance behaviors. These responses are attempts to manage the perceived threat of danger, but they can limit engagement with the present and hinder personal growth.

9) Spiritual and existential reflection

Trauma can prompt profound existential questions and a reevaluation of one’s spiritual beliefs. Some individuals may find solace and meaning in spiritual practices, while others may grapple with existential angst and a sense of disconnection from higher meaning.

How can you cope with and overcome trauma?

While it may not necessarily feel like it right now, it is possible to cope with and even move past trauma. it can help to understand more about how trauma works. As a starting point, if you are suffering from CPTSD we recommend this book by Judith Herman: Trauma and Recovery.

Many people find that therapy is helpful, but take the time to find the right therapist. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) can be very powerful and can also be conducted ‘content-free’ (this means you don’t need to disclose any details to your therapist for them to treat you).

It is important not to get into the habit of relying on poor coping mechanisms for trauma. Here are five healthy coping mechanisms you can try instead. Above all else, be kind to yourself and be patient with your progress; it can take several weeks or months to recover. Remember, it is a process and with help, you can move past trauma and experience inner peace again.