Many people enter the therapy process with minimal awareness of their trauma history. When the trauma survivors are dissociative, they have the ability to block out an awareness of their trauma. They may know that their family had problems, or that their family was dysfunctional, etc, but they may believe they were never abused.
However, blocking out conscious awareness of trauma does not mean that the survivors have no effects of that trauma. Using denial and dissociative skills does not mean that the abuse did not happen. Denial means that the person simply is refusing to acknowledge or accept the fact that they were traumatized. They are pretending they were not hurt, when they were actually hurt very badly.
Even if the memories of abuse are hidden from the survivor’s awareness, blocked trauma / unresolved trauma creates very noticeable and obvious symptoms that can be easily seen in their every day lives.
People will enter therapy aware of some of the following symptoms, but they may not realize these complications are suggestive of unresolved trauma issues:
1. Addictive behaviors – excessively turning to drugs, alcohol, sex, shopping, gambling as a way to push difficult emotions and upsetting trauma content further away.
2. An inability to tolerate conflicts with others – having a fear of conflict, running from conflict, avoiding conflict, maintaining skewed perceptions of conflict
3. An inability to tolerate intense feelings, preferring to avoid feeling by any number of ways
4. An innate belief that they are bad, worthless, without value or importance
5. Black and white thinking, all or nothing thinking, even if this approach ends up harming themselves
6. Chronic and repeated suicidal thoughts and feelings
7. Disorganized attachment patterns – having a variety of short but intense relationships, refusing to have any relationships, dysfunctional relationships, frequent love/hate relationships
8. Dissociation, spacing out, losing time, missing time, feeling like you are two completely different people (or more than two)
9. Eating disorders – anorexia, bulimia, obesity, etc
10. Excessive sense of self-blame – taking on inappropriate responsibility as if everything is their fault, making excessive apologies
11. Inappropriate attachments to mother figures or father figures, even with dysfunctional or unhealthy people
12. Intense anxiety and repeated panic attacks
13. Intrusive thoughts, upsetting visual images, flashbacks, body memories / unexplained body pain, or distressing nightmares
14. Ongoing, chronic depression
15. Repeatedly acting from a victim role in current day relationships
16. Repeatedly taking on the rescuer role, even when inappropriate to do so
17. Self-harm, self-mutilation, self-injury, self-destruction
18. Suicidal actions and behaviors, failed attempts to suicide
19. Taking the perpetrator role / angry aggressor in relationships
20. Unexplained but intense fears of people, places, things
These same symptoms can be applied for survivors already working in therapy. Attending regular therapy does not mean the clients have resolved their trauma issues or that they are even working in that general direction. Many therapy clients will continue to deny, dissociate, and refuse to look at their trauma even if they are aware of their daily struggles.
If you are experiencing a number of the symptoms listed above, ask yourself if you are truly ready to address your trauma issues, or if you find it more comfortable to continue living with these struggles.
Is it harder to face how you were abused and who abused you? Or is it harder to live a life full of depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, troubled relationships, extreme fears, physical pain, and addictions?
Running from your trauma history will not help you feel better. In the short-run, you might not have to face the issues, but the cost in the long-run of unresolved trauma weighs more heavily than you might suspect.
Your life can be better than it is.