Psychological Trauma & Factors That Contribute to Long-Term Traumatization
Trauma is a psychological damage, caused by a single or enduring/repetitive traumatic event that completely overwhelms the person’s ability to cope and/or integrate the memories & emotions associated with it. The traumatic event can be physical, psychological or both. Sigmund Freud started the direction of current understanding of psychological trauma & PTSD. Freud pointed out the importance of a post-traumatic “incubation,” a latency period between the traumatic event & the occurrence of psychological trauma, which invalidated the idea of psychological trauma being purely caused by physiological causes. Freud emphasized the delayed reinforcement of the traumatic event as a memory, which caused the psychological trauma.
The reaction displayed by the victims of different type of overwhelming life events is surprisingly consistent, be it a consequence of war, experiences of rape, abuse in childhood, natural or other disaster. Common consequences include phasic re-experiencing & denial with alternating emotional constriction, pulling away from family obligations, depression, insomnia, nightmares, anxiety, social isolation, obsessive thoughts, anhedonia, sense of separation, impairment of memory, hyperreactivity, explosive outbursts, startle responses, tension, irritability, aggressive acts against others or self, sensation seeking, reenactment, drug & alcohol abuse, flashbacks. Traumatized people have low threshold for emotional & physiological arousal. Motoric discharge or social and/or emotional withdrawal is the usual response to stress by the people suffering from psychological trauma. In some cases re-experiencing can take the form of traumatophilia (seemingly voluntary reenactment) (ex., veterans enlist as mercenaries , victims of rape become prostitutes , physically abused children constantly expose themselves to danger). Freud thought the voluntary reenactment of trauma was an effort to gain mastery. Others may try to master the situation by avoiding & excluding everything that may remind them of the trauma. Often they avoid intimate relationships or other types of emotional connection.
Factors that contribute to the long-term traumatization:
- severity of the stressor
- genetic predisposition
- social support system
- prior traumatization
- preexisting personality
A successful resolution is the ability to recall the trauma at will, while being in control to switch to other unrelated thoughts at will. Symptoms that originate mostly due to genetic predisposition are probably the most resistant to the recovery process. Those affected that develop emotional constriction, reenactment, sensation seeking, drug & alcohol abuse, face overwhelming problems since the mentioned consequences serve as a base for many other consequential problems & further impair the person’s ability to recover.