11 Characteristics of unresolved trauma

Unresolved traumas are hard to resolve. Often, instead of processing and healing them, we repress them and store them in our mental “black boxes.” This triggers a whole host of symptoms.

11 Characteristics of unresolved trauma

Last update: June 26, 2023

We have all been exposed, at some point in our lives, to potentially traumatic events. For example, the loss of loved ones. These kinds of experiences have a strong emotional impact. They are difficult to overcome, accept and heal. However, as a rule, we eventually recover.

That said, many people carry with them unresolved trauma. They have been states where their minds bury traumatic experiences in the deepest layers of themselves and try to move forward. But unfortunately, they don’t always manage to fully resume their existence in a healthy way.

They may tell themselves that everyone has had a bad time in childhood and can get on with it. Or, that some people have been through a much worse time than they are and are still coping. However, minimizing traumatic events, instead of helping, chronicles any unconscious suffering. So much that, over time, a multitude of associated symptoms end up appearing.

Unresolved trauma can haunt us throughout our lives in such hidden ways that we find it difficult to associate it with those adverse events from our past. Musculoskeletal and digestive problems and outbursts of anger are three examples.

Sad man sitting on bed showing characteristics of unresolved trauma
Nighttime sleep disturbances are common effects of unresolved trauma.

Characteristics of unresolved trauma

In 2017, a study was conducted by a number of universities around the world. The aim was to explore exposure to traumatic events of the general population. The data was revealing: more than 70 percent of people surveyed reported having experienced a traumatic event.

This reiterates the idea that the vast majority of us are vulnerable to suffering from these kinds of experiences. However, not all people deal with trauma the same way. Some are quite resilient while others are more vulnerable. Indeed, it is extremely common to reach adulthood harboring in our psychological universes the imprints of painful events that occurred in our childhood.

To understand what it means to not address or heal these events, we must first define what constitutes trauma. Psychological trauma is a response that weakens our adaptive, emotional, cognitive, physical and social capacities. Indeed, everything that makes us human shatters.

Let’s explore the effects of these circumstances.

One of the effects of unresolved trauma is that we feel like our central nervous system is always on high alert. This leads to hypervigilance, sleep problems, poor emotional regulation, etc.

1. Panic attacks

Panic attacks occur frequently in individuals dealing with PTSD. Indeed, sickalmost constantly experience feelings of danger and/or threat.

This can make them constantly stressed and fearful. It can also cause them to suffer from panic attacks frequently. They manifest themselves in the following ways:

  • A sense of drowning.
  • Dizziness.
  • Cold sweats.
  • Tremors.
  • Palpitations.
  • The feeling of a loss of control.
  • Thinking they are going to die.

2. Feelings of anger and shame

Among the most common features of unresolved trauma is the feeling of shame. As a result, many victims of abuse or violent situations project self-defeating emotions onto themselves. For example, they may feel guilty or helpless for not taking action. Worse yet, they may feel responsible for what happened.

Also, them often feels anger. This is the sign of pain, indignation and helplessness. It is a state that can explode at any time, making it difficult for the patient to develop rewarding social and emotional relationships.

3. The echo of depression that comes and goes

Suffering from childhood trauma increases the risk of developing depressive disorder in adulthood. These are states of great emotional exhaustion that come and go, delineating persistent depressive disorder (dysthymia). These are mental conditions that can appear for a few months, subside and reappear later.

4. Nightmares and sleep disturbances

Nightmares are mechanisms that the brain uses to try to process trauma. However, in a nightmare, the sufferer relives the painful event, which generates even more physical and mental exhaustion.

Not surprisingly, dyssomnias or disturbances associated with the amount and quality of nightly sleep are often experienced by trauma sufferers.

5. Hypervigilance

Among the characteristics of unresolved trauma is heightened alertness or hypervigilance. This reality is an effect of the adverse event’s impact on the central nervous system. As such, the sufferer has been left in a permanent state of alert and harbors the feeling that danger is always lurking.

6. Psychosomatic diseases

Psychosomatic illnesses are physical symptoms directly linked to a specific psychological origin. Indeed, many people spend years trying to find the origins of a multitude of physical and organic ailments, for which there are no clear diagnoses.

For example, trauma may be behind the following problems:

  • Allergies.
  • Migraine.
  • Insomnia.
  • Chest pain.
  • Persistent tiredness.
  • digestive alterations.
  • Musculoskeletal pain.
  • High blood pressure and elevated cortisol.

Psychological trauma can be addressed and healed in psychological therapy. EMDR therapy (eye movement reprocessing and desensitization) is a therapeutic model widely used in these cases.

7. Low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness

I’m worth nothing. I don’t deserve to be loved by anyone. I will never achieve what I want. I am a failure. These overwhelming ideas are the voice of an unresolved trauma. It undermines self-esteem, self-image and the sense of competence of sufferers. Indeed, feelings of worthlessness lead the traumatized person towards truly problematic states. It is all the result of painful events that have not been healed.

8. Avoidant behavior

Avoidance is a mechanism encouraged by fear and anxiety. It prevents the patient from having a good quality of life. They end up avoiding and not dealing with any circumstance that causes feelings of stress or insecurity. As a result, they may lose job opportunities and experience many problems in their personal relationships.

Sad woman looking at plate showing features of unresolved trauma
Eating disorders often lurk behind childhood traumas.

9. Eating Disorders (ED)

Aalborg University (Denmark) has discovered a significant relationship between traumatic experiences and eating disorders (ED). This is a correlation that experts have suspected for some time. However, they have now established it patients who have been sexually abused in childhood have a higher risk of suffering from bulimia, anorexia, etc.

10. Self-harming behaviors

One of the characteristics of unresolved trauma is self-harming behavior. For example, the sufferer may cut himself, pull his hair, or pick or scratch his skin. By performing this type of behavior, they try to momentarily release their latent anxiety load. But, in the long run, it leads to extremely debilitating situations.

11. Difficulty dealing with problems

Life becomes really complicated and even threatening when the internal trauma is not resolved. The emotions of the sufferers remain on the surface and their brain shows some alterations in its cognitive functions. Also, they find it difficult to be reflective. Therefore, instead of calmly analyzing their problems, they react impulsively towards them or avoid them.

Dealing with unresolved trauma

If you experience any of the above symptoms, you should seek specialized help. Once your trauma, regardless of its origin, is treated, you can recover your quality of life. There are some science-based approaches that are highly effective. So, you shouldn’t hesitate to rely on the support of your environment and take the first step towards psychological therapy.

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Image Source : exploringyourmind.com

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