Unhealed Trauma

According to the dictionary of the American Psychological Association, trauma is “any disturbing experience that results in significant fear, helplessness, or confusion, that is intense enough to have a long-lasting negative effect on a person’s attitudes, or behavior”.1

The traumatic event could be of different types such as natural disaster, rape, loss of a loved one, serious illness, loss of a job or even birth could end up as a traumatic event.

There are three different kinds of trauma and those include:

Acute: results from a single event such as rape, an accident, or a natural disaster. It creates a lasting impression in the person’s mind, and it can affect how a person thinks or behaves, furthermore, it can be presented in the form of irritation, lack of self-care, inability to focus on work duties, extreme anxiety, insomnia, or dissociation.2

Chronic: chronic trauma results from incidents that have been repetitive such as child abuse, domestic violence, or long-term sexual abuse. Chronic trauma is said to last longer than acute trauma and it can lead to the development of post-traumatic stress disorder. Common symptoms of this kind of trauma include impaired memory, rage, confusion, fatigue, misperception of one’s environment, sexual avoidance, substance abuse, or violence.2

Complex: complex trauma can involve a trauma that is ongoing and repeated, those can include domestic violence in both physical as well as emotional, torture, or human trafficking. Symptoms involve avoidance of a situation that reminds you of the trauma, flashbacks, difficulty regulating emotions, hyperarousal, depersonalization, or sleep disturbances.3

Pretending that everything is fine when it is not could be a sign of unhealed trauma. There are different manners in which individuals can develop maladaptive coping mechanisms through trauma and those involved:

  • Avoidance: this involves attempting to avoid the stressor instead of directly coping with it. It might help in the short-term but in the long-term, it will only create more stress and anxiety for the individual from which there is a possibility the individual will not know where that anxiety comes from, not forgetting how in the long-term it can develop into depression.4
  • Addiction: Individuals undergoing trauma or those who have not yet healed from trauma are prone to develop an addiction. That might be because the person is trying to mute the pain for a moment, this can also work in the short-term, but if used daily as a coping mechanism it can develop into addiction or even cause negative financial and health implications in the individual. Symptoms of people undergoing trauma or have unhealed trauma that tries to mute can be agitation, social withdrawal, depression, or hypersensitivity.5
  • Promiscuous behavior: It can happen at times that some individuals might utilize promiscuous behavior to forget about past trauma that might cause anxiety in the present moment, however, this can be life-threatening and it is another negative coping style just like addiction, instead attempt to talk to a loved one when the urge to do this kind of behavior appears, try writing, watching a movie, practice meditation or exercise.6

Traumatic experiences can affect how an individual behaves, thinks, and look at themselves. Therefore it might be pivotal to highlight some healthy coping mechanisms, besides the aid therapy can provide to an individual as well as pharmacology. Some healthy coping mechanisms include:

  • Engage in activities that you used to enjoy before, or try to find an activity you might positively benefit from emotionally.
  • Socialize with those that bring emotional stability to your inner self 
  • Practice breathing and mindfulness. Mindfulness does not necessarily have to work for everyone, but there is growing evidence stating how over time the practice of mindfulness can lead to greater brain connectivity which leads to better emotion regulation, emotion interpretation as well as levels of frustration toleration.7
  • Beware of the situation which you have control over and those which you cannot have control over. Sometimes we cannot have control over certain situations however we can control how we react toward that situation and vice versa. 
Edited by Marta Padron Pena, Mental Health Intern.


  1. https://dictionary.apa.org/trauma 
  2. https://skywoodrecovery.com/chronic-versus-acute-trauma/ 
  3. https://psychcentral.com/ptsd/complex-trauma-a-step-by-step-description-of-how-it-develops#how-does-it-develop 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3035563/ 
  5. https://www.gatewayfoundation.org/addiction-blog/trauma-and-addiction/ 
  6. https://themeadowglade.com/what-an-unhealthy-coping-mechanism-looks-like/ 
  7. https://trauma-recovery.ca/recovery/mindfulness/