Experts Share 4 Subtle Signs You're Still Living With Trauma

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There is no "cure" for trauma. No psychologist worth her credentials would claim to possess the ability to "heal" PTSD.

What they'll focus on, instead, is something that sounds brutally clinical but carries the very human emotional weight of a lifetime: "outcomes of behavioral health services."

That requires considerable time and care spent investigating the sources of trauma, along with the patient's perceived and unseen trauma responses — physical and emotional. 

But what are considered positive outcomes of behavioral health services for the treatment of trauma? While the traumatic memory itself might always be part of you, the goal of trauma treatment is to "change patterns of behavior, thoughts and feelings that lead to difficulties in functioning."

First, though, it's important to recognize that trauma is, in fact, intruding on your ability to function. How can you tell for sure that the emotional residue of a past event still holds sway over your behavior, thoughts and feelings?

To figure out that very thing, we reached out to a panel of YourTango experts and asked them to reveal signs that someone is still living with trauma.

RELATED: 6 Signs You Have Profound Emotional Trauma (And You’re Unaware Of It)

RELATED: 6 Signs Your Past Childhood Trauma Is Making You Physically Sick

Here, experts reveal the four signs that you're still living with trauma:

1. Flashbacks, anxiety, anger & more

From a psychological perspective, trauma is actual or threatened exposure to an event that could cause serious physical injury or harm (DSM-5). This includes things like rape, a car accident, or physical violence. For some people, exposure to these events leads to prolonged psychological symptoms that harm their emotional, psychological, physical, or spiritual well-being. 

Some obvious signs that you're living with symptoms of trauma include:

  • Flashbacks of the traumatic event where you re-experience or re-live it in your own mind
  • Being in shock, denial, or disbelief that the event happened
  • Reacting to current life events in a seemingly extreme way because they trigger memories of the traumatic event
  • Feeling disconnected or numb from your present life
  • Anger or rage that the trauma occurred in a way that stops you from functioning in your current life
  • Irritability and mood swings that interfere with your ability to enjoy your current life
  • Anxiety that the trauma will happen again
  • Deep sadness or despair
  • Difficulty trusting others or building healthy, secure new relationships

Dr. Cortney Warren, board-certified clinical psychologist, adjunct psychologist, UNLV School of Medicine

2. Disproportionate responses to minor inconveniences

Unresolved trauma can negatively impact almost every area of our life if we are not aware and continuously working to change, heal, and be restored. Being aware of the signs of how trauma may continue to affect thoughts, behaviors, and emotions is the first step. Awareness leads to insight which leads to change. 

Five obvious signs that I encourage clients to be aware of in my practice are: 

  • Dollar-sized reactions to dime-sized events
  • A low frustration tolerance
  • Frequent dissatisfaction and disappointment with people, places, and situations
  • Being triggered by the same behaviors over and over again
  • Intrusive thoughts of the trauma

Once you are aware of the signs, change can begin.  Doing the work with a trauma expert to dig deeper as to why the past trauma event is continuing to negatively impact your present day is a very important piece to gain insight and effectively implement change for good.  The trauma never has to have an effect on you again.  Choose not to allow the traumatic event and memories to steal any more joy or time from your life.  Restore and heal today.

Dr. Susan Pazak, clinical psychologist and life coach

RELATED: Read This If You're Trying And Struggling To Overcome Emotional Trauma

3. A constant, unexplained urge to protect yourself

Some of my clients have experienced toxic work environments, narcissistic bosses, or bullying, and often don’t realize that they’ve been traumatized by it. Unprocessed trauma can manifest in various ways, such as a lack of trust in colleagues, reduced sharing of information, excessive double-checking of work or emails, an intense need to document conversations, and overall hypervigilance.

If you find yourself constantly focused on protecting yourself at all costs, it’s clear that you have healing to do. While a certain level of risk awareness can be healthy, being constantly on the lookout for danger can wreak havoc on the parasympathetic nervous system, robbing you of joy and posing a threat to your career success and overall well-being. 

Lisa Petsinis, career and life coach

4. The physical symptoms of trauma response

Trauma is not just in your head. Commonly, we think of experiencing trauma through intrusive thoughts. And yes, this is one major hallmark that you may be processing past traumas. 

But one of the least understood signs that you are still living with trauma can be found in your bodily sensations, tensions, and even illness.  

As a trauma and addiction psychologist, I suggest you consider what may be driving certain sensations, and tensions that you live with daily and maybe even self-medicating in a variety of ways. These could have another genesis, and therefore another way of healing.

Our mind and our body work together; they’re connected. While we often think of headaches, even migraines, as an indication of possible trauma, this is not the only possible physical area where you may be holding trauma.   

New research and treatments, including some intriguing physical therapy techniques, are also exploring how tension in your pelvic area may be an indication that trauma is still being re-experienced by you as constipation, sexual problems, stomach aches, and intense, painful menstrual cycles. 

What to do? The good news in this is help is available. Relaxation techniques, yoga, meditation, psychotherapy, and yes physical therapy could be helpful. Explore these. You deserve no less.

Patricia O’Gorman, Ph.D., psychologist, and life coach 

RELATED: 5 Red-Flag Signs That Indicate Hidden Trauma Is Destroying A Relationship

Carter Gaddis is the senior editor for Experts and Wellness with YourTango.