A situation that puts a person’s psychological and physical integrity under threat is called trauma. These can be emotional, sexual and/or physical abuse caused by people around one while growing up (inter-personal). They can also be situations in which one feels helpless; such as accidents, illnesses, medical interventions. Apart from these, wars, natural disasters, deaths, migrations and acts of terrorism are also the cause of trauma.
Trauma from childhood leaves much deeper and permanent traces. The most important cause of childhood trauma is child abuse. Abuse affects the child’s health, physical and psychosocial development. Adults, society or the state, (knowingly or unknowingly) can be the cause of abuse. Girls are likely to be abused three times more than boys. 96% of elders who abuse girls are male, where 80% of the time that person is someone the child knows.
The child tries to cope with the faced threat. The threat initiates the stress response in in the brain and the body, giving the person under threat the means of fighting or escaping the situation (fight/flight response). However, escaping and fighting are usually not possible. The resulting stress response causes the levels of the stress hormone cortisol to increase. When the threat cannot be overcome and/or the threat is repeated for too long periods, cortisol cannot go down to normal levels. Changes occur in cortisol sensitive brain regions (hippocampus, amygdala) occur. This leads to the amygdala hijack; the fight / flight response occurs (gets triggered) with the slightest stimulus even though the child grows and trauma remains in the past;
leading to hypothalamo-pituitary axis disturbances, chronic stress response, chronic cortisol elevation and sympathetic activity predominance.
Post traumatic stress disorder, depression and/or anxiety are well known diseases that can be seen following adversities. There are a myriad of other chronic diseases that can be seen in trauma patients (co-morbid with PTSD, depression and anxiety):
• Smoking and alcohol addiction
• Eating disorders
• Substance addiction
• Tension type headache
• Ischemic heart disease
• Chronic fatigue syndrome
• Irritable bowel syndrome
• Menstrual irregularities
If the person faced with a traumatic situation, is able to seek help, can find support and/or can seek relief/affection by those he/she loves and trusts, the trauma may not cause devastating effects. Getting support and help for coping successfully with difficulties makes it possible to cope with other difficulties in the long run. This is called posttraumatic development and growth. Many successful people have grown through coping with the posttraumatic difficulties and devastation. Thich Naht Hanh summarizes this situation very well:
No mud, no lotus.
Don’t forget that even after the worst, it is always possible to grow, develop and lead a fulfilling life.