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How Trauma Impacts Well-Being

What is wellbeing?

When we think of well-being, we usually focus on mental and physical health. However, health and wellness include the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. Holistic wellness also takes into account the many external and environmental factors which could be supporting or impacting overall wellness. For example, you provide support and comfort to a person, which leads to positive wellness outcomes.

Psychological reactions to traumatization and victimization

Trauma and victimization may lead to psychological distress for several reasons. For example, a traumatic experience can dramatically interfere with a person’s ability to feel secure and invulnerable. A common psychological reaction is a destroyed sense of predictability. For example, the person’s sense of wellbeing and daily routine is changed significantly. You may see that the person has a decreased level of engagement, including in their social support network.

Another source of psychological distress is people who have experienced crime, tragedy or loss devaluing themselves because they feel violated, stigmatized, or have lost their autonomy/independence as they now feel they have to rely on others. For example, people may feel and perceive that those around them, including natural helpers, view them as weak, vulnerable, inferior, or deserving of what has happened to them. They may feel ashamed or embarrassed, which leads to greater psychological distress.

Other reactions to traumatization and victimization

Traumatization does not only impact one’s psychological well-being but also affects a person’s overall wellness in terms of physical health, cognitive ability, social interactions and connections, and spirituality. For example, changes in sleeping patterns, difficulty focusing, withdrawing from others or activities, and questioning their belief in a higher power.

What is compartmentalization?

For people who have survived traumatic events, one way to manage the intense feelings and adverse changes in their holistic wellness is by compartmentalizing. A person who compartmentalizes, consciously or unconsciously, suppresses their feelings in order to be able to focus on tasks. Compartmentalizing can be a healthy way to manage overpowerful emotions and stress in a very challenging time. For example, a person suppresses their emotions in order to make arrangements for the funeral or celebration of life. However, it is important to note that suppressing or denying feelings for an extended period of time is unhealthy.

Criminal justice system impact

  • For some people who have experienced a crime, seeking help from the criminal justice system can have negative mental health consequences. Some examples are:
  • It can feel traumatizing to repeat and retell a story to police, lawyers and when testifying during a trial in court.
  • Not being able to tell their story in a way that feels right or meaningful to them (e.g., when completing a Victim Impact Statement for victims of homicide, people are only to focus on how the crime has impacted them versus telling the Court about their loved one).
  • Losing a sense of power and control (e.g., in the court process the accused has a lawyer and the Crown prosecutor represents ‘society’, with the victim not being represented).
  • The fear of the loss of privacy, as the criminal event becomes a public matter, due to the exposure in the media and the open court (especially in sexual assault and homicide cases).
  • Feeling frustrated or disengaged with the criminal justice system.

Short-term and long-term impacts

A traumatic loss is a particularly stressful event that can cause disruption in multiple areas of a person’s life. Not only must individuals face their feelings of longing and grief, but loss may lead individuals to re-evaluate their worldview, question their own mortality, and question their identity. Post bereavement process is also linked to other physical and mental health conditions such as the onset and intensification of physical ailments.

Although, despite the existing links between suffering a loss and symptoms of mental illness, experiencing a traumatic loss does not typically lead to a mental disorder or long-term negative holistic health and wellness outcomes. A small number of bereaved persons develop symptoms of persistent complicated grief. This longer-term impact is characterized by a person being ‘stuck’ or remaining in a loss orientation

Continuum of processing, managing, and coping with traumatization

As part of processing their trauma, it is common for people to go between a loss and a restoration perspective. The table below shows some of the differences between orientations.

Loss OrientationRestoration Orientation
Remaining in intense feelings of loss, anxiety, or depressive states.
Intrusion of grief in daily life.
Remaining stuck in what was (longing).
Awareness of life changes and seeking support from a variety of people and resources.
Distraction from grief or moving through the grieving process.
Denial or avoidance of looking forward and considering the future.Participating in new activities and rituals
– (new possibilities and opportunities).
Questioning own mortality.
Poorer health focus and outcomes.
Loss triggers past losses and trauma creates new stressors.
Future focused in the ‘new journey’ – establishing new roles and identities.
Recognizing the personal strengths in managing the event.

While there is no one common grief style, over time the processing of the events is healthy when moving towards restoring a sense of wellbeing.