Common reactions to a traumatic event
This series of articles lists and explains some of the most common reactions people have following a trauma. Because everybody responds differently to traumatic events, you may have some of these reactions more than others, and some you may not have at all.
Remember that it’s normal to be affected by a traumatic event. In fact, most people who’ve been through something traumatic will experience some emotional impact immediately afterwards, but people usually feel much better within three months of the event. For some people it takes a bit longer, however, and sometimes people will need help to recover. Becoming aware of the emotional changes can follow a traumatic event is the first step towards recovery.
Many of the reactions to trauma are connected to one another. For example, images of the trauma that pop into your mind uninvited may make you feel out of control and make you feel very afraid. Sometimes people think they’re “going crazy”, when in fact they’re having a normal fear response, but these thoughts then make them feel even more afraid. The good news is that as you make more sense of the experiences that are normal following a trauma, these reactions should become less distressing.
Re-experiencing the trauma
You may notice some of the following:
- Unwanted thoughts and a replaying of the trauma memory in your mind. Some people find that their mind returns to the traumatic event(s), almost like on a loop. It can feel like your brain is trying to make sense of what happened or figure out another response to the events.
- Nightmares. It’s common for people to have nightmares related to the traumatic events. Often the nightmares aren’t an exact replay of the traumatic event, but they include similar themes, such as danger, fear, dread, or being chased. Nightmares can be a key reason that people find it hard to sleep following traumatic events.
- Vivid images that intrude into your mind uninvited, or a feeling that the trauma is happening again. This can be very upsetting and can bring back the emotions you experienced during the trauma.
Traumatic events are so different from what you normally experience in life, that they don’t fit with your model of how the world usually works. So, in order to understand what happened, your mind keeps bringing the memories back, trying to digest them and make sense of them.
This is a series of articles covering trauma reactions including: avoiding things relating to or reminding you of the trauma; emotional reactions; changes in how you perceive yourself, others and the world; being on edge and high alert, and increased use of alcohol or other substances.