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The Effects of Trauma on Men
Trauma may be a difficult topic for men to talk about. Feelings of shame and guilt may surround them. Society expects men to be “tough,” but these expectations can cause men to ignore or diminish the trauma in their lives. However, traumatic events cause emotional, physical, cognitive, and behavioral effects.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is the physical and emotional response to a disturbing event that overwhelms the ability to cope. It may cause feelings of hopelessness, diminish a sense of self, and decrease the ability to feel a full range of emotions. Many events may cause trauma, including:
- New job or move
- Acts of terrorism
- Natural disasters
- Sexual abuse
- Life or death situations
Why Men Repress Trauma
In American society as well as most culture around the world, men are taught from a young age that they must be strong. We discourage our men from showing emotions and instead teach them that confidence, strength, success, and composure are the defining factors of being a man. Phrases like “Boys don’t cry” or “Don’t be such a girl” teach young boys that anything emotional is seen as “feminine or weak.” Emotions in men are often diminished, and young boys are taught to “man up.” By teaching men from a young age to ignore their emotions, they learn to avoid their real feelings.
Emotional Responses to Trauma
Emotional reactions to trauma vary. The feelings most likely to surface after a traumatic event include anger, fear, sadness, and shame. However, men may have a hard time identifying these emotions because a lack of experience or exposure to expressing feelings may make them hard to recognize. Some may also believe that expressing emotions is too dangerous and may lead to feeling out of control.
Trauma usually leads to feeling too much or feeling too little. Feeling too little is also known as numbness. Numbing is a biological process where emotions are detached from thoughts, memories, and behaviors.
Some trauma survivors have a hard time regulating emotions. Substance use is one of the methods individuals may use to attempt to regain emotional control. However, using drugs causes further emotional dysregulation.
Physical Responses to Trauma
There is a significant connection between trauma and chronic health conditions. A common symptom that arises after a traumatic event is hyperarousal, which is characterized by sleep disturbances, such as early awakening, restless sleep, difficulty falling asleep, and nightmares; muscle tension; and a lower threshold for startle responses. Biological changes cause hyperarousal and it is typically used as a means of self-protection but can cause hazardous effects. An individual may not be able to take the time to assess and respond to events. It can also cause someone to overreact to situations they may perceive as dangerous.
Cognitive Responses to Trauma
Traumatic experiences can affect and alter cognitions. Intrusive thoughts and memories can occur in traumatized men. Intrusive thoughts are memories or thoughts associated with trauma that come on without warning or desire. They can easily trigger strong emotional and behavioral reactions as if the trauma was occurring in the present. These thoughts and memories can come rapidly and disrupt daily life.
Triggers cause intrusive thoughts. They are stimuli that set off a memory of a trauma or a specific portion of a traumatic experience. For example, someone may have been trapped in a car after an accident. Then, sometime after the event, they were unable to open the latch on a bathroom stall. This may induce feelings of panic, similar to those during the car accident. Some triggers can be identified and anticipated easily, while others may be subtle and inconspicuous.
Flashbacks can also occur in trauma survivors. A flashback is re-experiencing a traumatic event as if it were happening at that moment. Experiences are typically very brief and only last a few seconds, but the emotional aftereffects may linger for hours or days. Flashbacks are most often initiated by a trigger but also may come out of nowhere. Physical states, such as fatigue and high stress, can also increase the chances of experiencing flashbacks.
Dissociation is a cognitive effect of trauma. It is a mental process that severs connections between thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, and identity. Dissociation can occur as a result of extreme stress to protect someone from harmful feelings.
Behavioral Responses to Trauma
The consequences of traumatic events may include behavioral reactions. Self-harm is a typical behavioral response to trauma. It is intentionally self-inflicted harm used to cope with physical or emotional distress. Self-harm occurs in individuals who have experienced repeated or early childhood trauma. Typical forms of self-harm include cutting, burning, punching oneself hard enough to bruise, banging one’s head against walls or objects, pulling out hair, and excessive scratching.
Substance use is another common behavioral response to trauma. The use of substances can vary based on several factors, including which trauma symptoms are most prominent. Substance use is a common way for trauma survivors to avoid or displace difficult emotions.
As young boys, many men in America are taught how to be “manly.” These teachings cause men to believe that feeling their emotions means they are weak, leading to a repression of trauma. However, the effects of trauma still show themselves emotionally, physically, cognitively, and behaviorally. Substance use is very commonly seen in trauma survivors as a way to self-medicate and avoid difficult emotions. At Cornerstone Healing Center, we offer Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy to heal trauma. EMDR can help diminish feelings of stress and anxiety and may be instrumental in helping you in your recovery. Along with EMDR, we also offer individual therapy. Cornerstone Healing Center’s staff of highly qualified and compassionate professionals genuinely cares about your recovery, as well as your health and well-being. Our treatment centers use a combination of spirituality and science to help you recover from addiction. If you or a loved one struggles with trauma-related substance use, call Cornerstone Healing Center at (800) 643-2108.
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