Stuck In Trauma: How To Get Unstuck From Trauma

You may get emotionally trapped at the age of trauma due to certain events. However, you can become “unstuck” as your healing unfolds.

Stuck in trauma: how to get unstuck from past traumatic events
Stuck In Trauma: How To Get Unstuck From Past Traumatic Events

When a car suddenly cuts you off, you’re driving down a familiar road. Your heart races, your palms sweat, and you flashback to a past accident. This feeling of being trapped in a loop, triggered by everyday events, might be a sign of being “stuck in trauma.”

You can experience traumatic experiences in many forms, from a car accident or job loss to witnessing a personal attack or experiencing childhood neglect. These experiences can leave lasting emotional and physical scars, making it difficult to move forward.

If you find yourself constantly reliving the past, feeling emotionally numb, or avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma, it’s important to know that there is help available. This blog offers guidance and support as you navigate the journey towards healing.

How do you know you have gotten stuck in trauma?

Trauma is stored in both the brain and the body when it occurs, especially in the early stages of an individual’s life, according to Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a Sonoma, California-based clinical psychologist, trauma specialist, and author. Therefore, if healing is not achieved, the traumatic experience can prevent normal development.

This is a result of impaired neurobiological processing of the trauma. According to her, it can impact your brain’s wiring in a way that will eventually affect your cognitive functions and behavioral responses as you age.

According to studies conducted in 2015, Age regression can occur in adults and children, according to a trustworthy source. Age regression occurs when you act younger emotionally. Regression may be more common in younger persons than in older adults, according to a small-scale 2007 study.

Age regression indicates that when we feel insecure or meet trauma triggers, we may act like children again, even if we’re unaware.

Trauma impairs emotional maturity, known as arrested psychological development. Trauma can “freeze” emotional responses at the age you experienced it.

Few research studies are investigating the validity and usefulness of the belief that trauma can cause age regression and keep people stuck at a given age, despite the widespread belief among therapists and counselors.

RELATED: Understanding Trauma Bond Withdrawal Symptoms

Impact of trauma residuals on our body

How trauma may change and rewire the brain makes it so devastating. This brain stress results from physical changes and a complex sequence of life-altering effects. 

Research reveals trauma survivors develop more sickness. According to the Adverse Childhood Experience Study, trauma survivors are 5,000 times more likely to use drugs, attempt suicide, and have an eating disorder. The primary concern manifests in muscle tension, sickness, and injury.

Animals “shake off” the freezing response produced by life threats. Studies show that traumatized animals shake it off to release this stuck energy.

Many people describe their fear response as “shaking like a leaf.” Shaking or trembling from the limbic brain (the brain’s emotional center) signals that danger has passed, and the fight-or-flight mechanism can turn off. They complete the neurological system response to unstuck from trauma.

If trauma cannot be overcome, animals die, but humans may develop mental or physical illnesses. Some people can’t shake off trauma, so it stays in their bodies.

When the nervous system is held down, held against your will, or immobilized, the problem arises. If this experience gets stored in the body, it might cause mental or physical sickness or both and lead to PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder. The issues that arise get settled in our bodies and brains.

RELATED: 7 Stages of Trauma Bonding & Recovery

Stuck in Trauma, Survivors Coping strategies

Here are some survival techniques that people stuck in trauma adopt;

Hyper Active as a survival mechanism

Brain and body change after a traumatic experience that threatens personal safety. The threat triggers our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS), which is responsible for fight or flight, a vital survival response. The SNS stays activated after stress, alerting the body and mind. Trauma rewires the brain and neurological system, making healing difficult.  

The normal human brain functions calmly and peacefully. But trauma survivors operate constantly in hyper mode on autopilot as a survival mechanism. As a result, they cannot fully work as normal, healthy individuals do. 

Trauma and PTSD cause brain stress and hormones to stay in survival mode and not get healed. The reptilian brain(responsible for survival instincts and autonomic body processes) remains alert for threats and keeps survivors reactive, affecting other brain systems.

Constant brain stress drips down to the body, normalizing this behavior. Some people, stuck in survival mode, get PTSD if their brains don’t reset.

Age Regression as a survival mechanism  

Melissa Lapides, a California marital and family therapist, psychotherapist, and trauma specialist, says age regression helps people survive. “Because it wasn’t safe for the body to process [at the time], trapped emotions unknowingly guide your behavior and relationships,” she explains.

It doesn’t necessarily make you stuck at a certain age; instead, you are acting out the emotional damage that happened at that age.

Childhood trauma can impair development at any time. Early life traumas and symptoms of PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) include abuse, neglect, accidents, and bullying. 

Here are some examples of how age regression can manifest concerning trauma:

Avoiding mature conversation topics, even when it affects their relationships, adults may avoid mature conversation topics that are difficult or uncomfortable as a way to deal with conflict.

Emotional outbursts,  in situations that trigger memories of the trauma, individuals might struggle to regulate their emotions and experience tantrums or meltdowns similar to younger versions (at the time they experienced trauma).

Regression in memory or focus, during an episode of age regression, individuals might struggle to recall recent events or experiences, showing a temporary lapse in memory function.

With daily tasks, individuals may face challenges performing tasks they can typically manage, exhibiting a regression in skills or independence similar to their younger selves.

Types of trauma

Since each individual reacts to trauma differently, even if they have experienced similar things, one person’s reaction to an incident that could cause them to regress or become “stuck” may not have the same effect on another.

Even if ten people survive a small plane crash, each person’s reaction to the traumatic event will differ due to factors like genetics, past experiences, and the actual traumatic event they experienced.

As stated in various ways, trauma is not an occurrence. It’s how you interpret what happened. When you go through a traumatic experience and you get support or assistance, the trauma is less likely to stay with you.

Several typical reasons for unresolved trauma include, 

  • abuse or neglect as a youngster
  • emotionally unavailable guardians or parents
  • bullying in schools, sexual assault or molestation, and car crashes
  • surviving natural calamities,
  • abusive environments at work
  • emotionally abusive relationships

RELATED: Understanding Enmeshment Trauma: Causes, Effects, and Healing

Is it possible to get unstuck on the road to healing?

While the experience of trauma can leave significant and lasting impacts, it is possible to move forward and build a fulfilling life beyond it. Many individuals have gotten successfully unstuck from trauma and found ways to heal and thrive.

The American Psychological Association (APA) lists a few effective treatments and therapies that may be particularly helpful in assisting you in getting unstuck from trauma, including:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
  • prolonged exposure (PE) therapy
  • mindfulness-based therapies
  • narrative exposure therapy
  • somatic therapies
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy

RELATED: Understanding and Overcoming Traumatic Invalidation

Self-Healing for Those Stuck In Trauma

Here are some additional points to consider when you feel stuck in trauma:

  • Identify your specific struggles, reflect on the areas where trauma manifests in your life, and what coping mechanisms you currently rely on. Are they helpful or hindering your progress?
  • Explore healthier alternatives; various healthy coping mechanisms can aid emotional regulation and conflict resolution. Examples include mindfulness practices like deep breathing and meditation, journaling, engaging in creative activities, and seeking support from trusted friends or mental health professionals.

Becoming unstuck from trauma is a gradual process. It requires commitment, self-awareness, and a willingness to explore new ways of managing challenging emotions and situations.

Developing mature emotional responses and abandoning child-like coping techniques might help people become unstuck from unprocessed trauma. Adapting to trauma-related adult temper tantrums may need deep breathing, self-compassion, and conflict resolution. 

Trauma survivors may develop healthy connections, and childhood abuse survivors get unstuck from traumatic memories through committed efforts to spend a healthy life after trauma.

 Acknowledge that learning new behaviors takes time and practice, and acknowledge your accomplishments as you progress towards physical and emotional well-being.

FAQS 

What are the symptoms of PTSD and depression?

PTSD symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, and hyperarousal, causing emotional distress after a traumatic event. Depression symptoms involve persistent sadness, loss of interest, and changes in sleep or appetite. Both conditions impact daily life and require professional support for effective management and recovery.

Some examples of body sensations commonly associated with trauma?

Trauma can manifest in body sensations, like a racing heart, shallow breathing, or muscle tension. Individuals may experience nausea, dizziness, or a sense of numbness. These sensations can become intertwined with traumatic memories, contributing to heightened stress responses. Professional support can help address and manage these physical manifestations of trauma.

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