6 Myths About Psychological Trauma (and Why They Are False)

Myths about Psychological Trauma

A psychological term that is often used in common language is the word trauma, or derivatives. We often use it when we experience a complicated situation, which is not far from its technical definition in psychology.

However, some technical nuances are lost or confused. In addition, films and series have given visibility to some psychological disorders related to trauma, mostly post-traumatic stress disorder. As often happens on television, the symptoms have been distorted or exaggerated, leading to confusion.

Therefore, in this article I give you six myths about psychological trauma, explaining why they are false. Previously, I leave you the scientific definition of what psychological trauma is, and so you get an idea of ​​what is true and what is myth.

What is psychological trauma?

Psychological trauma is defined as the emotional response after a terrible event, experienced as threatening to your survival or that of close people. Consequently, the person who suffers from it may feel different unpleasant emotions, such as shock, helplessness, sadness, anger, shame, fear, confusion, guilt or despair.

Apart from the emotional response, other psychological symptoms may arise. These include recurring distressing memories and dreams related to the event, dissociations and even amnesia, general malaise, inability to enjoy, decreased interest and constant avoidance of things related to the trauma. Physiological symptoms may also appear, such as nervousness, fatigue, headaches and belly aches.

Psychological trauma can appear from immediately after the stressful event to even months later (commonly within 3 months). It is not necessary to have experienced the dangerous situation, but it can also arise from witnessing it directly, or simply being told about it, even more so if it has happened to a person close to you. This phenomenon is called vicarious trauma.

At the same time, There are different types of trauma, depending on how many times traumatic events are experienced. The first type is acute trauma, which appears when a single traumatic event has been experienced. Next is persistent or chronic trauma, the result of repeatedly experiencing similar stressful or dangerous situations. And the last is complex trauma, which is the consequence of being exposed to multiple traumatic events.

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Some examples of traumatic events caused by other people are bullying at school or at work; physical, psychological or sexual abuse; or physical assault, robbery or kidnapping. Traumatic events are also considered those related to direct health, such as serious injuries or illnesses, the sudden death of a loved one, a surgical operation, or giving birth. Added to these are social events, such as natural disasters, mass accidents, terrorist attacks, epidemics or wars.

Debunking myths about psychological trauma

In our culture there are numerous myths and stigmas about psychological problems and disorders. Well, the case of psychological trauma is not going to be less. Below, I leave you six of the most common myths related to trauma and the real explanation for each one.

1. “After a dangerous event, trauma always appears”

There is a belief that every time we experience a situation that could be traumatic, in which our physical integrity or even our life is in danger, we will subsequently suffer trauma. Well no, sir.

It is true that most likely, in the following days, we will feel bad, and we will need time to recover from the experience.

However, There are those who have a high capacity to overcome and adapt to difficult events, that is, they are highly resilient people.. Resilience allows them to put into practice a series of problem-solving and emotional management strategies that allow them to overcome pain and recover in a reasonable time.

And it is natural that these types of situations cause us discomfort, no matter how many skills we have. The difference is in how much it affects us, if it prevents us from leading a normal life and how long the discomfort lasts. Furthermore, for the dangerous experience to cause us trauma, it has to cause us that mixture of unpleasant emotions that we mentioned before, and the rest of the psychological problems.

2. “It won’t have been a big deal if you are leading a normal life”

The previous myth leads to another myth, and it is a problem when we see those people who lead a normal life after having had a traumatic event in our opinion. It’s not just because we think there’s something wrong with them or that they’re not processing the event as they should, instead of being happy for them and their resilience.

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It’s not just that, no: it’s because Some even think that the resilient person has invented the event or that it was not a big deal.. The most obvious example is when victims of sexual abuse are publicly criticized when they appear on television, trying to continue with their lives and not be devastated by the event.

3. “All people who have trauma suffer from PTSD”

As we have mentioned before, the determination of a trauma depends on the discomfort it causes, the specific symptoms, its duration and whether it affects the daily life of the person who suffers from it. Well, the presence of a psychological disorder also depends on these factors. Let’s say it would be the next step in severity, so that the disorder is not always reached by suffering a trauma.

When trauma symptoms persist or become more pronounced, it is possible that the trauma has led to a psychological disorder.. There are several trauma-related disorders possible at all ages, including some that only occur in children: reactive attachment disorder and disinhibited social relationship disorder.

The best known is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), due to its appearance in films and series, and its high prevalence after periods of war or mass accidents. However, there is also acute stress disorder, which would be like PTSD but only lasts one month, and adjustment disorder, whose severity of symptoms and traumatic event is less.

4. “Time heals everything”

There is some truth in this myth, in the sense that we always need time to recover after an event as hard as a traumatic experience. However, Although time is a necessary condition to overcome it, it is not enough. There are people who do not have the skills required to face these situations and their memories, nor to manage the emotions and discomfort they cause.

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This is how trauma is generated, and how it can end in a psychological disorder. People who are not very resilient need external help to be able to acquire coping and emotional management skills, and thus develop their resilience. For this learning, I recommend going to psychological therapy, the psychologist will be able to help you feel better and recover your normal life. Your trauma will always be treatable, although I suggest that you ask for help as soon as possible.

5. “I should have gotten over the trauma by now.”

This myth goes hand in hand with the previous one, and that is that we tend to think that there is an established recovery time, and nothing could be further from the truth. The time to overcome it depends on the characteristics and severity of the traumatic event; whether it happened to ourselves, to another person in front of us or if we have been told about it; whether it is an acute, persistent or complex trauma; and our capacity for resilience.

As you can see, the time depends on many factors. Added to this is that trauma can appear from three days after the event to months, or even years later. This way, Its appearance is also a factor that will influence its resolution. The only thing we can assure regarding the time to overcome is precisely that it depends on the person, the situation and that a certain margin is always necessary.

6. “People with trauma experience them in the same way”

I think that at this point in the article you will have gotten an idea of ​​why this myth is false. Likewise, I prefer to explain it to clarify it. How the trauma is experienced depends on the idiosyncrasy of the person (especially their resilience) and the traumatic event. The psychological, emotional and physiological symptoms of trauma will vary in each case, and can be quite different from each other.

Likewise, the recovery will also change based on the same. Therefore, psychological therapy is adapted to each case and person, to adjust to their previous needs and abilities. Remember to respect your own time for this. I definitely recommend going to therapy if you need help, there are numerous existing therapies with proven effectiveness.