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Doctor Gayle's Corner

Understanding Emotional/Psychological Trauma – Part 1

Have you ever experienced any type of emotional trauma, or been close to someone who you’ve watched experience trauma and possibly felt helpless because you didn’t know how to help them come through it? Recently I’ve been studying and teaching on emotional trauma, the expectations we have, or the standards we place on people to come up higher, and then the disappointment we feel when they don’t seem to handle life’s situations quite the way we do. The more I teach, the more questions come up, which compels me to talk to more people, listen to their story, and do even more research simply trying to understand how I/we can be more effective in helping people understand and overcome the effects of emotional trauma.

These personal conversations have raised a number of questions:

(1) How can you recognize a person is experiencing or has experienced emotional trauma?

(2) What are some of the effects of emotional trauma on the body/mind?

(3) Can we recognize triggers that cause people’s behavior to change?

(4) Can we recognize and/or understand its effects mentally?

First I think you have to know what is considered emotional and/or psychological trauma: Trauma as described by Merriam-Webster dictionary is simply: “a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems usually for a long time.” According to, emotional & psychological trauma is described as: “the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless and vulnerable in a dangerous world.” These are some of the types of trauma people encounter: physical abuse, abandonment, sexual molestation and/or rape, either as a child or in adulthood; domestic violence, divorce, negative military experience, loss of a loved one, a relationship, or loss of a job/career, etc.

One way to recognize a person experiencing emotional trauma is through conversation – they may be extremely negative or bitter; they may demonstrate a poor self-image, demonstrate expressions of helplessness/hopelessness; inability to deal with even the tiniest disappointment or setback; you may notice extreme anxiety, depression, or possibly conversations of past or even present suicide attempts; you may also notice guardedness expressing a lack of trust in people. These are just a few of many, many behaviors of a person who has experienced trauma in their lifetime.

Interestingly I find that many people do not understand the effects and triggers of emotional trauma, the devastating effects on the human psyche, particularly causing mental challenges, and lastly our own unrealistic expectations. Tune in to part 2 of this article where I’ll be discussing some of these issues. My last article will address how to overcome or help someone else suffering from emotional trauma’s aftereffects.

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