We all know someone who has suffered from anxiety or depression. Or, it might be you and I who find ourselves being pulled down into the darkness for one reason or another. What you might not know is that not all depression or anxiety is created equally. More specifically, there are some people who experience anxiety and depression as a result of a trauma. This might seem obvious to you, but the real difference is how it is treated. The treatment for someone with general anxiety might be to ground them and bring them back to their reality. Someone who’s suffered from trauma might not benefit from that because they’re past is creeping into their present.
Let me explain. For someone dealing with complex trauma, the anxiety that they feel doesn’t come from an unknown source. You don’t just wake up one day and start obsessing about worst case scenarios. General anxiety is often not rational. Mindfulness techniques are helpful because they can at least acknowledge that they are loved and supported by others. But those who have experienced trauma, their anxiety comes from a physiological response to what has actually already happened. Meaning, the brain, and the body don’t have to imagine what the worst case scenario would be because they’ve already lived it. Of course, these people don’t want to be back in that situation, so they are going to do everything they can in order to make sure it doesn’t happen to them again.
The anxiety comes in because you never know when you’re going to find yourself reliving those moments. Because you’ve lived through the trauma, it’s hard for the brain to imagine that it won’t happen again. People living with generalized anxiety are often living in fear of the future. This is because their brains think that they will find themselves in a new place experiencing the old trauma.
How can this be addressed? Well, it’s not easy. The remedy for both anxiety and trauma is to pull your awareness back into the present. But for a person who has experienced trauma or abuse, this isn’t always possible. To start, the traumatized person needs to in a place where they are 100% safe before they can even start to process these feelings. Where this gets tricky is that they not only have to eliminate the abuser, but they also have to eliminate anyone who is anything like the abuser. Perhaps they have a friend or a family member who has similar characteristics to their abuser. Those people have to be eliminated from their life completely as well. Otherwise, they will always live in fear that they are going to get abused again.
Strategies that effective to treat anxiety and depression, don’t necessarily work for trauma survivors. Things like meditation and mindfulness techniques that help someone become more aware of their environment, can often have the opposite effect on a trauma survivor. Trauma survivors don’t need more awareness, they simply need to know that they’re safe and secure – regardless of what their brains are telling them.
When it comes to experiencing anxiety and depression as a trauma survivor, the feelings are compounded. Traumatized people will spiral into shame. Whatever messages they received from their abusers are the messages that will play in their heads over and over again. They will feel a deep sense of shame because they’re “defective” or “not good enough”. Many people who were emotionally abandoned, will feel like they weren’t loved, and that’s one thing that we humans can’t live without. When the darkness sets in, it’s not just about the symptoms of depression, but it’s also about how the survivor isn’t good enough. They may push people away because they don’t feel like they’re good enough to be loved.
While it’s true that anxiety and depression are very commonplace in today’s society, many might not understand that they’re actually suffering from the repercussions of trauma. If you are feeling any of these things, I urge you to talk to your doctor or reach out to a counselor for some help. These aren’t easy topics to discuss, but it’s necessary to ensure that you’re getting the appropriate help that is needed for your unique situation.