Traumatic Events, Experiences and Abuse

Trauma includes both single events and repeated experiences (whether within a short amount of time, or over many years). Past traumatic events, including but not limited to abuse (i.e., physical, emotional/verbal or sexual), can have lasting effects on one’s mental wellness many years beyond the actual event. In some cases, trauma or abuse history can lead to the person experiencing PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder).

Trauma can be defined as any experience that overwhelms a person’s ability to cope. People can go through a wide range of normal responses following a traumatic experience. While these reactions may seem ‘crazy’, it is helpful to keep in mind that these are normal reactions to abnormal events. These reactions may include physical reactions (headaches, backaches, stomach aches and problems, heart palpitations, sleep and eating changes), emotional reactions (fear, anxiety, shock, irritability, restlessness, anger, emotional mood swings, flashbacks, helplessness among many others) and behavioural reactions (increased use of alcohol, drugs or food, increased need for control in one’s life, avoidance of anything associated with the trigger).

Healing from past abuse or other tramatic experiences typically requires a combination of:

  • patience, emotional support, and guidance
  • processing the memories of the traumatic events at one’s own pace within the safe confines of a counselling session
  • learning coping strategies for triggers or flashbacks of the trauma
  • learning how to challenge and change negative thought patterns about the trauma, sometimes including letting go of shame or self-blame
  • setting behavioural goals to build self-confidence and assertiveness to move forward with one’s life (including, if appropriate, a safety plan for leaving an environment that is currently abusive)
  • therapeutic techniques and interventions from a variety of approaches, including cognitive behavioural therapy, person-centered therapy and EMDR