Overview

A traumatic experience can affect a person’s entire life making them vulnerable to ongoing fear.  Fear is a result of a negative outcome in which horrifying memories are engraved on the brain causing people to have terrorizing flashbacks and uncontrolled panic attacks. Trauma is real and it affects people to where they behave and respond differently. Crime victim survivors are an example of how an incident can turn their world upside down.

The emotional toll from a traumatic event can cause intense and frightening feelings. Our bodies go through psychological and emotional impact once we have experienced a traumatizing event. Whether you were directly involved in the event or exposed to it after, there is a process one goes through to regain equilibrium and take back control of their life.

There are times when victims seek professionals who specialize in helping trauma victims rebuild their lives. Trauma victims often feel disconnected from the world. They can also experience hopelessness, depression, suicidal thoughts, poor self-identity, anxiety and low self-esteem. The recovery process can lead you down a path toward a better understanding, sense of awareness and hope.

What is traumatic stress?

Whether you are a witness or survivor of a traumatic event such as a violent crime – a mass shooting, domestic abuse, etc., it is normal to have a traumatic stress reaction. Overwhelming your nervous system can create stress leaving you feeling hopeless and helpless. It is also normal to feel anxious. The nervous system has been triggered causing one to experience a range of emotions and possibly even physical reactions. Sometimes these stressors occur directly after the event and other times, weeks or months after the event.

Triggers

If you have gone through a traumatic experience, it is normal to feel a variety of emotions. Sometime these feelings take a long time to go away. People, things, and smells are a few triggers that can cause memories to return. There are ways to calm your nervous system by recognizing warning signs. Below are triggers that people often face.

  • Re-experiencing a similar event
  • Seeing a person related to trauma
  • Experiencing the way you felt during the traumatic experience
  • Seeing an object that reminds you of your trauma
  • Scents tied to memories
  • Returning to the scene of a trauma
  • Reliving the same feeling of pain

Brain Response

The brain alters dramatically after a traumatizing experience which can develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD affects about 8 percent of Americans some time in their lives. For many trauma victims, PTSD can lead to lifelong problems of neurological issues. Traumatic stress on the brain can cause a stress response on the amygdala which is the part of the brain that processes emotions and fear. Traumatic stress can be associated with lasting changes in this brain area. Stress attacks the autonomic nervous, endocrine and immune systems which affect how we respond.

Recognizing symptoms

Recognizing symptoms of traumatic stress are a good way to completely understand where you stand as far as your mental and emotional health. Trying to tell the difference between what are expected behaviors are signs of mental illness is not always easy. Below are some symptoms people frequently experience after trauma.

  • Having flashbacks
  • Having nightmares
  • Emotional numbness
  • Avoidance of places, people and activities
  • Difficultly sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling jumpy
  • Being easily irritated and angry
  • Pounding heart and rapid breathing

Road to recovery

It is recommended that if you are a survivor of crime, you shouldn’t manage your mental health alone. You should seek out resources to guide you in the recovery stage. These resources can help your brain think and act differently when the traumatizing events reoccur in your memory. It takes some survivors a short period of time to recover, but the recovering process can also be extensive. A person’s personal healing results from the amount of trauma they have faced.

The Five Stages of Recovery

  1. The emergency stage: This stage is also known as the outcry stage. During this stage, your responses to everything around you will be intense and your anxiety will be extremely high.
  2.  The numbing stage: This second stage is referred to as the denial stage. Denial happens when you do not address and acknowledge your symptoms. Avoiding emotions can cause high levels of stress.
  3. The intrusive/repetitive stage: This stage occurs when you start to have nightmares and flashbacks.
  4. The transition stage: In this stage, you move into a new level of acceptance and understanding of what happened and how it is affecting your life.
  5. The integration stage: This is the fifth and final stage where you work through your symptoms and are able to manage daily tasks.

Trauma can spill over into other aspects of life, oftentimes leading survivors down a rabbit hole of criminal and legal issues. Being victimized at any point can lead to an increase in arrests, abuse or convictions. Chronic victims who have suffered ongoing violence have the highest odds of legal outcomes. Lone Star Legal Aid provides free legal representation, advocacy and education. Our legal services protect and advance the civil legal rights of the millions of Texans living in poverty.

If you or anyone you know is suffering from trauma caused by a single incident or from chronic child abuse or domestic violence, please visit here to connect with the Hotline for Survivors of Violence and Trauma.

If you or a loved one are experiencing abuse and need assistance, self-help resources are available via www.texaslawhelp.org.  If you or a loved one are in need of an attorney or would like to explore other resources, you can utilize if they are being abused, you can visit the Texas Crime Victim Legal Assistance Network.

Lone Star Legal Aid is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit law firm focused on advocacy on behalf of low-income and underserved populations. Lone Star Legal Aid serves the millions of people at 125% of federal poverty guidelines that reside in 72 counties in the eastern and Gulf Coast regions of Texas, and 4 counties of southwest Arkansas. Lone Star Legal Aid focuses its resources on maintaining, enhancing, and protecting income and economic stability; preserving housing; improving outcomes for children; establishing and sustaining family safety and stability, health and well‐being; and assisting populations with special vulnerabilities, like those who have disabilities, or who are elderly, homeless, or have limited English language skills. To learn more about Lone Star Legal Aid, visit our website at www.lonestarlegal.org.

Media contact: Clarissa Ayala, cayala@lonestarlegal.org.