How Trauma and Shame Prevents Us From Living Wholeheartedly

While there’s a dictionary definition of trauma and shame, the individual’s perception may be different. What constitutes trauma for one person may not for another, and that’s okay. 

Trauma could be anything that puts someone at risk, i.e. domestic or sexual violence, severe illnesses, or natural disasters. And these, are just a few examples. Essentially, anything that evokes a severe emotional response in a person could be considered trauma.

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 In the same way that you could be physically scarred from a certain event, trauma acts as emotional, internal scarring that can often be very hard to deal with, and potentially last even longer than physical scars.

Shame could be a feeling of distress due to certain actions. There are so many different types of shame – in some cases, people may feel shame for something that they’re the victim of. There’s not just one rational answer to it. 

Everybody deals with trauma and shame differently and it’s important to acknowledge this.

Although it’s possibly one of the hardest things to do, you shouldn’t compare your trauma and shame to others. This could potentially worsen the feelings in some way, for either you or the other party, and it’s a harmful behavior that isn’t beneficial for anyone involved.

Trauma and shame are likely to cause a setback in your life and can take a toll on your brain, memory, body, and even your relationships with other people. 

Living wholeheartedly means loving and embracing yourself and others and experiencing life for all that it has to offer. Unfortunately, trauma and shame can disrupt this. Read on to find out how trauma and shame prevent us from living wholeheartedly.

How Trauma and Shame Prevents Us From Living Wholeheartedly

To understand how trauma and shame prevent us from living wholeheartedly, it’s important to examine how we could potentially identify these. Trauma and shame will differ from person to person. 

However, some of the most common emotional responses to trauma and shame are:

  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
  • Social Anxiety, i.e. avoiding social settings, including ones with your friends and family
  • Feeling guilt or shame
  • Feeling angry or irritable
  • Adaption of perception, i.e. of yourself or the world
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Grief and depression

If this trauma isn’t dealt with properly, then it could lead to potentially destructive behavior. This could include:

  • Inability to maintain relationships
  • Feeling frightened or threatened
  • Self-destructive behaviors
  • An uncontrollable feeling of hopelessness

How It Affects Our Brain and Memory

One way in which trauma and shame can affect our brains is through PTSD. The American Psychiatric Association states that PTSD affects 3.5% of U.S adults throughout their lifetime. Going through a traumatic event can evoke a cognitive response. 

The three key parts of the brain that are affected are the hippocampus (the general processor of traumatic events), the amygdala (the place where the traumatic events are stored), and the pre-frontal cortex (the rational indicator of how much threat is caused by the traumatic event.)

With PTSD, the hippocampus will recall the traumatic memory in your brain, whether this is through thoughts or images, the amygdala reacts and causes flashbacks, and the pre-frontal cortex becomes unable to determine whether or not they’re safe. 

They may feel as if they’re in immediate danger and this unsettling feeling can cause the person to act out and struggle to control their impulses. PTSD sufferers may then try to find ways to prevent these triggers from occurring as a way of suppressing the emotions, and this could include self-destructive behaviors.

Sometimes, if the person tries to suppress this from happening, they may even potentially experience memory loss. 

If this trauma or shame then has an impact on the memory, whether it’s partially obscured or completely lost, it becomes difficult for the person to heal. If they can’t piece the event together, then they may continue to feel the heavy emotions associated with PTSD, but are unable to recover from it.

How It Affects Our Body

While a lot of the effects of trauma and shame are psychological, they can also have an impact on our bodies. Trauma and shame can cause a lot of stress, which in turn then causes a physical reaction in our bodies in a variety of different ways

You might be able to identify these signs of stress in symptoms like headaches, dizziness, heartburn, high blood pressure, or muscle pain

If the traumatic experience involved your body in some way, i.e. abuse or an accident, then there’s a high likelihood that your body could feel different from you. While linked to the psychological, your perception of your body could change. 

In some cases, you may feel disassociated from your body. This is a clear indication of anxiety that could be triggered by trauma and shame. If you’re consumed by trauma and shame, then all that you want to do is stop the effects. Because you’re unable to physically escape, dissociation acts as a mental escape. 

If you feel disassociated from yourself, you may lose any sense of self-control. This then makes it extremely hard to live wholeheartedly if you don’t feel a connection to yourself, and potentially others too.

How It Affects Our Relationships

According to the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies (ISTSS), trauma will impact the relationships that we have, whether that’s existing or future relationships. 

Trauma and shame can affect the person’s perception of the world and leave them feeling scared. The event may leave them feeling cynical and cause them to doubt the people around them, even if they were deeply close to them beforehand. Often, there’s the feeling that they have lost control of their lives.

If there’s this sense of blurred control, their decisions may be affected, and there becomes an ambiguity around who they can trust. They could act rationally or they could retreat entirely. And as a consequence, this reaction to trauma and shame can affect that person’s relationships

Regarding existing relationships, if they feel uncomfortable in reaching out to their loved ones, they may feel alone and isolate themselves. 

Approaching future relationships may also appear extremely daunting to them. If they feel unsafe or have a lack of trust, it’ll be difficult to build or develop a relationship with someone new.

If the trauma and shame come in the form of a loss, it could leave the person feeling guilty in some way. In this sense, the person may feel as if they should distance themselves from others. 

So, now you know how trauma and shame can have an effect on our relationships, but how does this prevent us from living wholeheartedly?

The American Psychological Association highlights how research shows that personal relationships have the ability to influence both our physical and mental health. This could be either a positive or negative way. How you deal with trauma and shame could potentially make or break your relationships. 

It’s difficult to live wholeheartedly if you’re living in fear. That is not to say, that it invalidates your feelings of trauma or shame any less. 

But, dealing with this trauma or shame, and potentially seeking professional medical help may be a way that can help you to progress. This doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting what’s happened but instead, finding healthier ways to cope with your trauma or shame.

Through this process, you can begin to repair your vision of yourself and the world around you and take steps towards living wholeheartedly.

Final Thoughts

Trauma and shame can affect more people than you know. They can present themselves in different forms, including your mind with something like PTSD or another cognitive form, or your body.

And while it might not always feel like it, you’re not alone

Your relationships may potentially change. Friends and family that you were close to may no longer feel familiar to you. You may feel that it becomes too difficult to trust them, or that they don’t understand, and as a consequence, it’s extremely easy to push people away. 

While it’s important to deal with your trauma or shame how you wish to, you should also note that there are people that you can talk to. If you don’t feel that you can talk to the people that you’re closest to, you should try to approach a healthcare professional.

If your effects of trauma and shame are long-lasting, and you continue to avoid this impact, it’ll be even more difficult to move forward. If you’re stuck in the same place, then it could potentially worsen and become too overwhelming. 

This will put you and possibly others at risk. But you can change how you deal with your trauma and shame. It all begins with that first step to dealing with the issues that you’re facing. 

Once you’ve begun to highlight the issues that you’re experiencing, you can start to try and heal from them. And once you’ve started to heal, you can try to live as wholeheartedly as possible.