Imagine a brother and sister exposed to traumatic experiences in their childhood home. He develops a substance use disorder by early adulthood. She goes on to build a successful career, yet struggles in creating healthy boundaries in relationships, and her physical and mental health progressively worsens. This hypothetical situation serves as an example of how signs of trauma in women can be subtle and take a long time to identify. Today, let’s focus on women, in particular, and what clues may reveal undiagnosed trauma in them well into their adult years.
Women who’ve experienced undiagnosed trauma can have regular physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. They may not connect ongoing symptoms such as nightmares, social avoidance, and addiction with the traumatic experience. Trauma can also lead to dissociation as women disconnect from their memories, feelings, and identity. Treatment with trauma-informed care is recommended for women whose substance use is connected to deeply distressing past experiences.
Common Symptoms and Signs of Trauma in Women
Think of symptoms and signs of trauma as ways you respond to the world around you. It could be a direct response to a situation you’re presently in. It could be a response to a thought, feeling, or memory you have. As each woman will respond to trauma in unique ways, let’s look at some types of reactions you may recognize.
Flashbacks and nightmares are similar in nature. While awake, you may return in your mind to a traumatic experience. The body feels like it’s living that moment all over again. Nightmares, while you sleep, may put you back in the actual traumatic event. Nightmares may also be more symbolic of the trauma, with no literal connection to the people, places, and events of the past experience.
Avoidance and retreating are common signs of trauma in women. You may avoid anything that seems associated with the trauma. Your emotional response may be to become numb to present situations. Instead of emotional numbing, women may feel a sense of extreme alertness in response to trauma. It can keep them from sleeping well, relaxing, or staying focused on important tasks.
How you think on a day-to-day basis can change with the presence of undiagnosed trauma. You may feel unsafe in most surroundings. Trusting others, even people who have never harmed you can be difficult for women who have experienced past trauma. They may have trouble being intimate with close friends or partners. The feelings tied to trauma may make them see themselves as worthless or powerless.
Trauma can show up as physical symptoms, too. It might be in the form of frequent aches and pains. Women living with trauma may feel fatigued frequently.
Trauma and Addiction
The impact of untreated symptoms and signs of trauma in women can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms, like drug or alcohol use. She may experiment with substances at an early age, if childhood trauma was part of her life. Without healthy alternatives to the distress caused by the traumatic incident, she may see drugs or alcohol as the only reliable way to cope and escape from the pain.
Managing emotions can be challenging for a woman dealing with post-traumatic stress. She may not have learned self-soothing strategies to use when she’s feeling panicked. It may appear to others who are unaware of the trauma that she’s overreacting to a situation.
These problematic interpersonal experiences can disrupt her ability to connect in healthy ways with people. In response, she may start using drugs or alcohol more frequently. She may start to associate with people who share similar experiences and only encourage her substance use.
Substance use can intensify through other behaviors connected to trauma. Guilt over risky sexual behavior may contribute to drug use. A clear intention to do self-harm can worsen a substance use disorder in women with trauma, too.
Signs of trauma in women can include dissociation. In these situations, she may not remember her self-destructive behaviors from an earlier time. She may not be aware of how she got into a particular situation or place. She may be unable to account for periods of time in her week.
Treatment for Trauma and Addiction
Women with a substance use disorder and untreated trauma need specialized care for their physical, mental, and emotional health. Trauma-informed care addresses the specifics of a woman’s past and how it has shaped her decision-making. As part of a program to help her learn strategies for sober living, mental health gets prioritized equally.
One focus of trauma healing in a program is teaching a woman how to reduce the risk of new trauma. Building self-esteem can help her recognize how to make healthier choices in friendships and intimate relationships by seeing herself as worthy of good things in life. It can also help her create new boundaries in existing relationships with family members and friends. These new boundaries may mean cutting out toxic or abusive people who she’s allowed to remain in her life.
Connecting trauma experiences with substance use is essential in this kind of treatment setting. Trauma-informed care will guide a patient through some essential principles of sustaining recovery while managing responses to trauma. Guiding principles of this form of care involves focusing on safety, choice, collaboration, trustworthiness, and empowerment.
An inpatient setting provides a place for a woman with post-traumatic stress and addiction to detox and begin working on her sobriety. In a safe environment with other women, she can learn how to advocate for herself and build community around her. Inpatient treatment becomes a valuable first step in recovery. Through this kind of program, a woman can learn ways to sustain sobriety beyond treatment, including outpatient programs, mentors, and sober living homes.
What to Do if You or a Loved One Has Experienced Trauma
Unmanaged signs of trauma in women should be treated without delay. If you’re experiencing trauma now, reach out to a therapist or a trusted friend to tell them what you’re feeling. Ask for ways you can get the help you need.
If you know someone who has experienced trauma, you can serve in the role of a vital support system. Give her a safe space to share what she’s comfortable sharing with you. Offer to help her find professional resources in her area.
Respect the privacy of any woman who seeks help dealing with trauma. She may have concealed it for years out of fear it would harm her reputation or expose her pain to unsupportive people. If she’s trusted you with this terrible experience, ensure the confidentiality of your conversations and the help you’re making available to her.
Don’t feel like you need to have all the answers right away. Listening to someone unburden themselves of their private pain is a big step in itself. Take the time to listen and process what’s being said to you. The person you care about just needs to know she’s seen and understood first.
Whether for yourself or someone else, it’s important to recognize if the trauma is connected to a person who’s still in your life or theirs. Attempts at healing can be slowed down or disrupted by a family member who was responsible for the trauma. Setting healthy boundaries may involve no longer having contact with this person as a part of a new mission of self-care.
Hannah’s House is a well-known care provider offering a range of treatment programs targeting the recovery from substance use, mental health issues, and beyond. Our primary mission is to provide a clear path to a life of healing and restoration. We offer renowned clinical care for addiction and have the compassion and professional expertise to guide you toward lasting sobriety.
For more information about the signs of trauma in women or to learn about our programs, call us today: 561.841.1272.