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What happens if trauma is not resolved?

If you were exposed to toxic stress for a long period of time, then the consequences will also last long and they can become a hindrance in your life. If the stress/risk/threat that caused the trauma was only one event, then the symptoms will disappear slowly but certainly. It will also depend on your level of resilience, and/or the way you deal with adversity. If you tend to worry a lot, or are normally fearful, you could stay traumatized for years.

Many individuals “learn” to live with the disorder —whether PTSD or C-PTSD— and could have very functional lives even when they carry the burden of a system that is never well regulated, and therefore, never works in optimal conditions. That could appear as emotionality (emotional dysregulation), as disengagement and emotional numbness, as physical problems, or a combination of them.

We were not aware of the phenomenon of trauma until relatively recently (the 1980s). People had no idea what was happening to them for decades, and all sorts of diagnoses were given to traumatized people, making them feel defective, mentally ill, depressed, anxious, bipolar, and so on. Those people either were medicated without much improvement, or learned to rely on being numbed by either legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or emotionally draining relationships. Most of the time, people will not even give attention to their symptoms and just assume there was something wrong with them, and therefore, not deserving much.

What I mean is that people can live with trauma for a very long time without clear dysfunction, but at some point, the system breaks, and many problems arise.

Reading the question again, it may be the case that you are using the term “trauma” to refer to the situation and not to the disorder. In that case, if the traumatizing situation doesn’t end, the person just keeps getting sicker and sicker, and their nervous system gets more and more dysregulated. There is no healing of trauma (PTSD or C-PTSD) until the traumatic stress and the dangerous circumstances disappear.

Childhood trauma could look like a personality disorder, or as an emotionally dysfunctional person, or as a “broken” person, or as someone with many diagnoses and comorbidities.

A child that develops trauma in childhood, will suffer from Developmental Trauma, or from Attachment Trauma, or both.

Developmental trauma has many debilitating consequences in the normal growth of the child that could have severe consequences in adulthood.

Developmental trauma occurs when the brain and nervous system are forming which means that many of the processes will be hijacked by the autonomic nervous system due to the activation of the survival mode.

Developmental trauma Is interpersonal in nature – involves harm or abandonment by caregivers or other responsible adults; is repetitive or prolonged, such as child abuse and neglect; may produce guilt or shame, as children may have wished to take protective action (e.g., fight, run) which they were unable to do at the time; and is associated with compensatory behavior in adolescence and adulthood like substance use, smoking, high-risk behavior, etc.

Because of compromised growth of the system, the adult will suffer from a series of alterations.

This list includes just a few:

  • Brain:

    • brain structure: overactive amygdala, atrophy of the prefrontal cortex, diminished hypo campus, etc.

    • brain circuitry, brain waves, and neural connectivity: reduce communication between neurons, modification of their response

    • neuro-chemical: neurotransmitters, endocrine system, inflammation: over or underproduction of some of them.

  • Memory

    • fragmented memories: remember what brings acute responses, forgets the parts that will create context.

    • memory disruption: long-term-short term, implicit-explicit. The narrative stops making sense.

  • Chemistry: excessive stress response.

  • Physiological (medical):

    • Digestive system

    • Autoimmune system

    • Metabolic system

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