What is Trauma?
In general, trauma can be defined as a psychological, emotional response to an event or an experience that is deeply distressing or disturbing. This is highly subjective from person-to-person, so please don’t discount things that you might have experienced that were traumatic. Many typically think that this only applies to extreme and severely damaging experiences such as abuse or sexual assault, but trauma can also include other upsetting events, such as being involved in an accident, having an illness or injury, losing a loved one, or going through a divorce.
“It is possible to heal from emotional and psychological trauma. We know that the brain changes in response to a traumatic experience, however, by working with a mental health professional who specializes in trauma, you can leave your trauma behind and learn to feel safe again.”
~ Center for Anxiety Disorders
Shock and denial are typical reactions to a traumatic event. Over time, these emotional responses may fade (or not), but a survivor may also experience other reactions long-term. Sometimes these symptoms aren’t obviously related the traumatic event. These can include:
- Anger, irritability
- Persistent feelings of sadness and despair
- Memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep disturbances, including nightmares or insomnia
- Unpredictable emotions
- Physical symptoms, such as nausea and headaches or chronic illness
- Feelings of guilt and/or shame
- Feelings of isolation and hopelessness
- Feelings of numbness or disconnection from self or emotions
- Being easily startled or frightened
- Always being on guard for danger
The Link Between Trauma and Eating Disorders
Unfortunately, many people with eating disorders have a history of trauma. Our clinical experience tells us that, but this reality is also confirmed by the research. Studies show that the vast majority of women and men with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder (BED) report a history of interpersonal trauma (Mitchell et al. 2012). Additionally, up to 50% of patients with eating disorders are also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
While eating disorders are complex and can’t be explained by one thing alone, unresolved trauma can certainly contribute to the development and maintenance of eating disorders in that they offer a way to cope with the effects of trauma. It is important in eating disorder therapy to explore whether you have experienced trauma or not, and if so, to recognize how that impacts your mental health, including your eating disorder. It’s also important to work on healing the trauma and learning healthier ways to cope than using eating disorder behaviors.
Reach out for help and support
You do not have to suffer alone and there are ways to effectively cope with and heal from trauma, PTSD, and eating disorders. Contact us here or click below to go ahead and schedule an appointment online.