11+ Ways Trauma Makes it Hard to Ask for Help

Unmasking the struggle: Uncover the 11+ ways trauma creates barriers to seeking help. Overcome the silence and find support.

Published On

July 4, 2024

Understanding Trauma's Impact

Experiencing trauma can have profound effects on individuals, impacting their emotional and cognitive well-being. Understanding these impacts is crucial in recognizing the barriers that trauma survivors face when seeking help and support.

Emotional Responses to Trauma

Traumatic events can trigger a wide range of emotional responses. Individuals may experience feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, sadness, or even numbness. These emotional reactions are natural responses to the overwhelming and distressing nature of trauma. It is important to acknowledge and validate these emotions, as they are valid and part of the healing process.

In some cases, emotional distress may persist beyond the immediate aftermath of the traumatic event. If feelings of anxiety, fear, or anger persist for two weeks or more, it may indicate the need for professional help. Seeking assistance from trained crisis counselors or mental health professionals is recommended to provide support and guidance in navigating these emotions and promoting healing.

Cognitive Challenges Post-Trauma

Trauma can also have significant cognitive impacts, particularly in children with complex trauma histories. These individuals may experience difficulties in thinking clearly, problem-solving, and reasoning. The constant threat of trauma can consume their internal resources, leaving little capacity for planning, anticipation, and adaptive decision-making [2].

Cognitive challenges post-trauma can manifest in various ways, such as difficulties with memory, concentration, and attention. Individuals may struggle to process information efficiently or may have trouble organizing their thoughts. These cognitive impairments can further complicate the ability to seek help and articulate their needs.

Understanding the emotional and cognitive impacts of trauma is essential in supporting trauma survivors. By recognizing and addressing these challenges, individuals can find the necessary support and resources to begin their healing journey.

Effects of Trauma on Self-Worth

Experiencing trauma can have profound effects on an individual's sense of self-worth. Notably, the influence of caregivers during childhood and the long-term medical consequences of trauma play a significant role in shaping one's self-perception.

Influence of Caregivers

Children learn their self-worth from the reactions of others, particularly those closest to them. Caregivers have the greatest influence on a child's sense of self-worth and value. Unfortunately, when children experience abuse or neglect, it can make them feel worthless and despondent [2]. The negative messages they receive from caregivers can deeply impact their self-esteem and make it challenging for them to seek help later in life.

Long-Term Medical Consequences

Traumatic experiences in childhood have been linked to increased medical conditions throughout an individual's life. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study, a longitudinal study exploring the long-lasting impact of childhood trauma, provides insights into this phenomenon [2]. The study reveals that individuals who have experienced trauma in childhood are more likely to develop various medical conditions in adulthood.

The long-term medical consequences of trauma can include physical health issues such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, and autoimmune disorders. The stress and physiological changes resulting from trauma can significantly impact the body's functioning and contribute to the development of these conditions. Additionally, trauma survivors may engage in behaviors such as substance abuse or self-harm as coping mechanisms, further exacerbating their health problems.

Moreover, the economic and social burden of complex trauma in childhood is substantial. Based on available data, the annual cost of child abuse and neglect is estimated to be billions of dollars. This highlights the far-reaching consequences of trauma and the urgent need for effective support systems and interventions.

The effects of trauma on self-worth and long-term medical consequences underscore the importance of recognizing and addressing trauma-related challenges. By understanding the impact trauma has on individuals, we can work towards creating a more compassionate and supportive environment that encourages survivors to seek help and embark on a journey of healing and recovery.

Barriers to Seeking Help

When individuals have experienced trauma, asking for help can be a daunting task. Trauma creates various barriers that hinder individuals from seeking the support they need. These barriers can be categorized into systemic issues in mental health services and intrapersonal barriers to treatment.

Systemic Issues in Mental Health Services

Mental health services often face systemic issues that can act as barriers to seeking help for trauma survivors. These issues can include constraints within the healthcare system, limitations in subsidized sessions, and challenges in integrating trauma-focused interventions.

For example, in Australia, constraints related to universal public health insurance coverage, known as Medicare, can limit the number of subsidized sessions provided annually [3]. This limitation may prevent trauma survivors from accessing the necessary long-term care they require.

In the United Kingdom, clinicians may struggle to integrate trauma-focused interventions into the clinical discourse of services for psychosis. This is due to the dominance of a biomedical model, limited understanding of psychological therapies, and clinician characteristics [4]. This lack of coherent understanding can impede the identification of traumatic experiences and individuals who would benefit from trauma-focused interventions.

Intrapersonal Barriers to Treatment

In addition to systemic issues, trauma survivors also face intrapersonal barriers that prevent them from seeking help. These barriers are often rooted in fear, shame, and avoidance of disclosing traumatic incidents.

Shame is a significant barrier that trauma survivors may encounter. The fear of judgment and stigma associated with their experiences can lead to avoidance of disclosing traumatic incidents and dropping out of services [5]. The internalized shame can make it challenging for individuals to reach out for the help they need, potentially prolonging their suffering.

To overcome these barriers, it is essential to create safe spaces within healthcare settings where trauma survivors feel comfortable sharing their experiences. Providing education and support to healthcare professionals can help address their anxieties about potential mental health risks and the emotional impact of trauma-focused interventions [4]. By fostering an environment of empathy and understanding, trauma survivors can feel more supported and encouraged to seek help.

Understanding and addressing both systemic and intrapersonal barriers is crucial in creating a mental health system that is accessible and responsive to the needs of trauma survivors. By breaking down these barriers, individuals can access the support they deserve on their journey toward healing and recovery.

Seeking Support and Resources

When it comes to overcoming the barriers that trauma creates in seeking help, accessing support and utilizing available resources are crucial steps towards healing and recovery. Two significant resources that can provide invaluable assistance are supportive healthcare workers and crisis counseling helplines.

Importance of Supportive Healthcare Workers

Receiving appropriate support from committed and empathetic healthcare workers is essential for individuals with a history of trauma. A study conducted by NCBI emphasized the significance of supportive healthcare workers in facilitating engagement and access to mental health services for individuals with complex trauma histories.

Supportive healthcare workers play a pivotal role in creating a safe and non-judgmental environment where individuals can openly discuss their trauma-related challenges and seek appropriate treatment. These professionals offer guidance, compassion, and expertise, helping individuals navigate the complexities of trauma and its impact on mental health. By establishing a trusting therapeutic alliance, healthcare workers can empower individuals to overcome the barriers that trauma creates and embark on a path towards healing.

Crisis Counseling and Helplines

For immediate support and assistance, crisis counseling helplines are available 24/7, providing a lifeline to those experiencing emotional distress. The Disaster Distress Helpline, as highlighted by SAMHSA, offers round-the-clock crisis counseling and support for individuals dealing with emotional distress arising from natural or human-caused disasters.

The Disaster Distress Helpline can help individuals locate services and connect with trained crisis counselors who offer guidance and support during difficult times. Whether it's coping with the aftermath of a traumatic event or managing overwhelming emotions, this helpline provides a confidential and compassionate space for individuals to share their experiences and receive assistance.

In addition to the Disaster Distress Helpline, the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, also mentioned by SAMHSA, is available for individuals in crisis or those who know someone in crisis. This resource offers support through calls, texts, or online chats, ensuring that help is accessible and readily available to those who need it most.

By reaching out to crisis counseling helplines, individuals can connect with trained professionals who can provide immediate support, guidance, and resources. These helplines serve as lifelines during times of distress and can assist individuals in finding the help and support they need to navigate the challenges of trauma.

In conclusion, seeking support and utilizing available resources are vital steps in overcoming the barriers that trauma creates when asking for help. Supportive healthcare workers offer guidance and understanding, while crisis counseling helplines provide immediate assistance during times of distress. By accessing these resources, individuals can receive the support they need to begin their journey towards healing and recovery.

Overcoming Shame and Stigma

Trauma can deeply impact a person's sense of self-worth, often leading to feelings of shame and stigma. This emotional burden can create significant barriers to seeking help and hinder the recovery process. Understanding shame as a barrier to recovery and implementing strategies to combat it are vital steps in the healing journey.

Shame as a Barrier to Recovery

Shame is a powerful emotional aftereffect of trauma that can have a profound impact on an individual's post-trauma state. It is a uniquely destructive emotion that makes individuals feel deeply flawed, worthless, and unlovable, damaging their self-image in a way that no other emotion can [6]. Trauma, especially when it provokes Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), can cause deeply rooted feelings of shame that foster over time, hindering the recovery process significantly.

Shame often creates a distress and shame cycle that inhibits individuals from living a stable, healthy life. It can cultivate feelings of unworthiness, isolate individuals from support systems, and leave survivors feeling disoriented about their role in society. It is important to note that shame and guilt are not the same emotions. Guilt involves evaluating an action or behavior as unfavorable but still feeling valued internally as a person, while shame involves negative self-judgment and viewing oneself as worthless [6].

Strategies to Combat Shame

Overcoming shame is a crucial step in the recovery process for individuals with trauma-related issues, such as PTSD. By implementing effective strategies, individuals can break free from the grip of shame and work towards their recovery goals.

  1. Develop self-compassion: Practicing self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness and understanding. By cultivating self-compassion, individuals can counteract the harsh self-judgment that often accompanies shame. This can be achieved through self-affirmations, self-care practices, and seeking support from loved ones.
  2. Distract from negative thoughts: Engaging in activities that promote positive distractions can help individuals shift their focus away from negative thoughts and feelings of shame. Engaging in hobbies, exercise, or spending time with supportive friends and family members can provide a healthy escape from shame's grip.
  3. Identify triggers: Recognizing the triggers that contribute to feelings of shame is an essential part of managing and overcoming it. By identifying situations, thoughts, or environments that trigger shame, individuals can develop coping strategies to navigate these triggers effectively.
  4. Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness techniques, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help individuals stay present and grounded, reducing the overwhelming impact of shame. Mindfulness allows individuals to observe their thoughts and emotions without judgment, fostering self-awareness and acceptance.
  5. Seek professional help: Trauma-informed therapy and counseling can provide individuals with the necessary tools and support to address and overcome shame. Therapists can guide individuals through evidence-based techniques, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), to process trauma, challenge negative beliefs, and develop healthier coping mechanisms.

By utilizing these strategies and accessing appropriate resources, individuals can effectively combat shame and create a pathway towards healing and recovery from traumatic experiences. It is important to remember that seeking help is not a sign of weakness but a courageous step towards reclaiming one's well-being.

Trauma and Mental Health Conditions

Experiencing trauma can have a profound impact on a person's mental health, often leading to the development of various mental health conditions. One such condition is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Understanding PTSD and its symptoms is crucial for recognizing the effects of trauma on daily life.

PTSD and its Symptoms

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after experiencing a traumatic event. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), symptoms of PTSD usually begin within three months of the traumatic event, but they can also emerge later. In order to meet the criteria for PTSD, the symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with daily life, such as relationships or work, and last longer than one month.

Common symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Intrusive memories or flashbacks of the traumatic event
  • Nightmares or disturbing dreams related to the trauma
  • Avoidance of triggers that remind the person of the trauma
  • Negative changes in thoughts or mood, such as persistent negative beliefs or feelings of guilt
  • Hyperarousal or heightened sensitivity to potential threats
  • Emotional and physical reactions when reminded of the trauma

It's important to note that not everyone who experiences trauma will develop PTSD. However, for those who do, seeking professional help is crucial, especially if the symptoms persist and interfere with daily functioning [8].

Impact on Daily Life

Living with PTSD can significantly impact a person's daily life. The symptoms of PTSD can interfere with various aspects of functioning, including:

  • Relationships: People with PTSD may experience difficulties in forming and maintaining healthy relationships. They may struggle with trust, intimacy, and emotional connections, which can strain personal and professional relationships.
  • Work and Productivity: The symptoms of PTSD can affect a person's ability to concentrate, make decisions, and perform effectively at work. This can result in decreased productivity and job dissatisfaction.
  • Physical Health: PTSD is not only associated with mental health challenges but can also have physical health consequences. Individuals with PTSD may experience sleep disturbances, chronic pain, headaches, and gastrointestinal problems.
  • Emotional Well-being: PTSD can lead to a range of emotional difficulties, including depression, anxiety, anger, and irritability. These emotional challenges can further impact self-esteem, self-worth, and overall well-being.

Treatment for PTSD typically involves a combination of psychotherapy and medications. Psychotherapy, including trauma-focused interventions, can help individuals learn skills to manage symptoms and navigate triggers effectively. Medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may be prescribed to help manage symptoms like sadness, worry, anger, and emotional numbness [7].

Recognizing the impact of trauma on mental health conditions like PTSD is essential for understanding the barriers individuals may face when seeking help. By raising awareness and providing support, we can help create a more compassionate and inclusive environment for those affected by trauma.


[1]: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster-distress-helpline/coping-tips

[2]: https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects

[3]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10084282/

[4]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9304310/

[5]: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7612965/

[6]: https://questpsychologyservices.co.uk/shame-why-does-it-come-from-trauma/

[7]: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd

[8]: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/coping-with-traumatic-events

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