Trauma and PTSD

Exposure to a single traumatic event, and certainly repeated exposure to trauma, can create serious mental health challenges. Treatment for trauma is associated with better mental health and improved quality of life.   


Trauma occurs when a person experiences an unbearable experience and feels unsupported or unprepared to cope with it. It can stem from a singular traumatic event like an assault, car crash, or natural disaster, or it can stem from recurring incidents, such as persistent verbal mistreatment by primary caregivers during the early stages of life.

The impact of trauma varies from person to person, and what one individual may perceive as minimally traumatic, another person might be affected for years to come. Rather than casting judgment on how traumatic a particular event or experience is, it’s more helpful to consider trauma in the context of your individual experience and how it affects your life today.

Certain mental health challenges, which can be linked to trauma (although they might have alternative causes), include challenges like depression and anxiety, persistent rumination and excessive overthinking, challenges in decision-making, disruptions in sleep patterns, diminished energy levels, a lack of motivation in life, heightened irritability, difficulties in establishing healthy relationships or sustaining employment, or an overarching sense of struggling in life without understanding what’s wrong or how to resolve it.

Trauma and PTSD

Exposure to a traumatic event, such as a sexual assault, can have long-term effects on your well-being, and it can result in PTSD, but the event itself is not PTSD. PTSD describes a long-term condition characterized by significant distress, impairment, flashbacks, and re-experiencing the traumatic event or events.


Diminished ability to function in everyday life

Trauma disrupts your capacity to learn and process information, as your natural response switches to survival mode when your sense of safety is threatened. While you’re trying to survive, it’s a good thing that your thought process shifts gears to ensure your safety. But when you’re finally out of harm’s way, it can be hard to heal the neurological rift that’s been created by the trauma and to continue functioning effectively in the world.

Mental health challenges

Trauma is closely associated with mental health disorders, such as depression, anxiety, phobias, and ADHD. The impact of trauma extends to interfere with executive functioning skills, which include prioritization, effective time management, adherence to a healthy routine, and sustaining employment successfully.

Trauma encourages unhealthy behaviors

Broad-reaching psychoanalytic research confirms the association between exposure to trauma and the development of dysfunctional and uncontrolled behaviors.

“Dysfunctional avoidance” refers to the attempt to avoid having to deal with unpleasant and discomforting experiences associated with numerous types of interpersonal trauma. This leads to an increased propensity to engage in substance abuse and problematic or self-injurious behaviors (including suicidal ideation and sexual risk-taking) while reducing the capacity to self-regulate injurious behaviors.

If you struggle with unhealthy compulsions or behaviors relating to food, sex, substances, or technology, unresolved trauma might play a significant role in your struggle. The good news is that addressing and healing your trauma frequently leads to the resolution of the underlying causes behind these behaviors, making it significantly easier to initiate behavioral changes.

Physical health ramifications of trauma

In addition to lifestyle and behavioral challenges, poor physical health is often a result of trauma. Interpersonal trauma exposure is strongly associated with poorer physical health. 

Children exposed to trauma are at increased risk of developing cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular issues, obesity, stroke, and substance use disorders, in addition to mental health issues.

Causes and risk factors

The chances of developing  PTSD or other problematic responses to trauma may be  affected by:

  • Hereditary and environmental variables. 
  • Repeated exposure to traumatic events.
  • Feeling helpless during traumatic events.

Treatment for trauma

Fortunately, there are multiple effective treatments for trauma available for adults and for children. Trauma-aware therapy can be an important part of recovery.

Your therapist may suggest:

  • Trauma-informed CBT for teenagers, adolescents, and children
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches individuals alternative ways of thinking, responding, and reacting to situations in order to reduce anxiety and fear. CBT has been extensively researched.
  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) is a type of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that specifically focuses on trauma. You can learn how to change you ways of thinking and challenges unhelpful beliefs that are related to trauma.
  • EMDR is a form of therapy that helps people heal from trauma or other distressing life experiences. EMDR has been extensively researched and has demonstrated effectiveness for trauma.
  • Exposure therapy is a CBT technique for the treatment of anxiety disorders. Exposure therapy focuses on tackling the worries underlying an anxiety condition in order to assist individuals in engaging in activities they have been avoiding. Sometimes, exposure treatment is combined with relaxation exercises.
  • Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) employs mindfulness, goal-setting, and other strategies to alleviate discomfort and anxiety. 
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT)
  • Mindfulness or other approaches.

Reach out today

Eastside Center for Healing offers mindfulness-based therapy for adults, teens, children, couples, and families in Bellevue. Therapy is available for trauma, anxiety, depression, and more. Reach out today to schedule your free consultation.

Related information

Briere, J., Hodges, M., & Godbout, N. (2010). Traumatic stress, affect dysregulation, and dysfunctional avoidance: a structural equation model. Journal of traumatic stress, 23 6, 767-74

Dimopoulou, I., Anthi, A., Mastora, Z., Theodorakopoulou, M., Konstandinidis, A., Evangelou, E., Mandragos, K.E., & Roussos, C. (2004). Health-Related Quality of Life and Disability in Survivors of Multiple Trauma One Year After Intensive Care Unit Discharge. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation, 83, 171-176.

López-Martínez, A., Serrano-Ibáñez, E.R., Ruíz-Párraga, G.T., Gómez-Pérez, L., Ramírez‐Maestre, C., & Esteve, R. (2018). Physical Health Consequences of Interpersonal Trauma: A Systematic Review of the Role of Psychological Variables. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 19, 305 – 322.

Sanderud, K., Murphy, S., & Elklit, A. (2016). Child maltreatment and ADHD symptoms in a sample of young adults. European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 7.

Schnurr, P.P., & Green, B.L. (2004). Understanding relationships among trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and health outcomes. Advances in mind-body medicine, 20 1, 18-29

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