When someone says the word trauma, what comes to mind?
Do you think of a big, specific event or disaster in someone’s life, like child abuse or a terrorist attack? Not all trauma looks the same, and it doesn’t always present in a super obvious form. It can be challenging to identify the past traumas currently affecting you because it’s ingrained in us that trauma always looks a certain way.
According to Jay Shetty, trauma is any event in which someone is exposed to too much, too soon. This type of event can cause the body’s nervous system to be overwhelmed. The person has a hard time resolving the event because they’re unable to understand and process the event at the time. At least some part of them, whether they’re aware of it or not, becomes stuck in that trauma unable to fully move on.
Unresolved trauma from a past event may then cause everyday challenges, and the person isn’t even aware of what the challenges stem from. So how is a person supposed to know if they’re experiencing hidden trauma? Are there signs to look for?
Yes. In this article, Jay Shetty unpacks four signs that point to hidden trauma and six steps you can take to release, not erase, what’s holding you back.
The 4 Signs of Trauma
Sign #1: Repressed Memories
“Researchers say the intensity of emotions at the time of an event impacts how our brains encode memories,” Jay Shetty explains. “If an event wasn’t particularly stimulating in any way, good or bad, it simply may not stand out in our memories, or this can indicate that our minds are keeping something from us that we’re not ready to process.”
Trauma can also be camouflaged as daily challenges. If you find yourself at a loss about fear, anxiety or other emotions you feel, and you can’t trace them to a clear source, you may have some unresolved trauma.
“Our bodies and minds work together to encase the trauma and shut us off to it because they know we’re not currently equipped to deal with it,” explains Jay Shetty. “When we uncover traumas later in life, it’s because some part of us perceives that we may now have the resources to begin to work with and resolve that trauma.”
Sign #2: Health Issues
That mind-body response can also become evident in your physical well-being, says Jay Shetty. Massage therapists and mental health providers often say your issues are in your tissues. Unexplained health challenges such as muscular pain, digestive issues, and other health problems are the second sign that you may have hidden emotional traumas.
Psychiatrist and best-selling author, Bessel Van Der Kolk writes in his book, The Body Keeps the Score:
“Traumatized people chronically feel unsafe inside their bodies. The past is alive in the form of annoying interior discomfort. Visceral warning signs constantly bombard their bodies, and in an attempt to control these processes, they often become experts at ignoring their gut feelings. In numbing awareness of what is played out inside, they learn to hide from their selves. Some of those physical challenges can come from some part of us always being on hyper-alert, and that chronic stress can have health effects.”1
Much of life’s trauma happens in childhood, and our lack of resources to understand the world around us at that time doesn’t allow us to rationalize what is happening.
“The prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that deals with logic, and helps us understand things rationally, doesn’t develop fully until our early to mid 20s,” Jay Shetty shares. “Before that, we process our experiences more through the emotional circuitry in our brain. We look to caregivers and others around us to help us regulate ourselves emotionally, and process information and experiences.”
We take our cues on how to deal with trauma from our role models. If they freak out, we are more likely to react to things the same way. If big situations are minimized, it can be confusing to see someone you trust downplay something that’s a big deal to you. According to Jay Shetty, this creates a disconnect in your ability to deal with that event.
Sign #3: Irrational Fears
A third indicator that you may have had in trauma is repeated fears that seem irrational.
As a coach, Jay Shetty admits that one of the most common issues that comes up again and again, is fear in relationships. Relationships always seem to start great, but a partner who has hidden trauma may begin to feel anxious and afraid as the commitment deepens.
“By the time they come to me, the client has experienced this pattern on repeat and can’t figure out why their relationships always seem to end up in the same place or what’s causing the fear of being abandoned by their partner,” Jay Shetty shares.
Sign #4: Emotional Disconnect
The fourth sign of trauma is the opposite of feeling fear – the inability to connect with your feelings or emotions. Instead, you may rely on reason and logic to make decisions, limiting you from connecting emotionally with loved ones.
Emotional disconnect can have a significant effect on your relationships, says Jay Shetty. Exploring the root of the trauma may lead back to how you were raised. If emotions were not discussed or were seen as a weakness when you were younger, you might see your ability to suppress them as a strength, while your loved ones see it as an issue.
Once you know how to spot the signs of trauma, it’s important to address it. Don’t let fear of rejection, depression, or anxiety keep you from seeking help to address your trauma. Find a place where you feel psychologically safe to handle it. It is essential to have reliable, certified support when you take the first steps, says Jay Shetty.
Once you find a safe space, you can start to explore the source of the trauma. Do not focus on remembering exact events right away. Explore your apprehensions about what you are afraid of now to find clues about the past trauma.
Jay Shetty shares an exercise that can help. List out every core belief you have about your life or relationships. Try to get 15 of them written down. This requires deep reflection, and sometimes you may even end up doing it a few times. This exercise will help you get started thinking along those lines and opening yourself up to what’s ready to come into your awareness. From there, you can begin to get curious about why you might believe that or where that belief might have come from.
Take Your Time
The third step to releasing your trauma is to go slow. Take your time. Having assistance from a trained professional can be very helpful in this journey. Jay Shetty explains that when you look at possible traumas, go slowly to determine what’s going on. Don’t assume you know. Instead, take on an attitude of curiosity and respect for the process.
Revisit Trauma from the Present
The key to dealing with traumatic events is not to revisit them as your younger self. When you address a trauma, come at it from the present with the perspective you currently hold as an observer would.
When you look at trauma in observer mode, you can see all the elements you couldn’t see at the time of the event. You create context and awareness you couldn’t have then, and you can now deploy the tools you have acquired in life. If you try to revisit the trauma as your younger self, you are in danger of reliving it and re-traumatizing yourself.
Acknowledge the Trauma
As you start to understand and work with your traumas, some of them may naturally begin to release as your perspective shifts— but that doesn’t mean it will be easy. Even though you want to remove that trauma, it can be difficult to let go.
“When you release a long held pattern, you will change and that change can be scary,” says Jay Shetty. “Sometimes we unconsciously cling to the way we are, trauma and all, because we have no idea who we will be without those patterns. One of the most powerful ways to address this challenge is to create a powerful image of your future self that you can link to.”
Release and Serve
You cannot erase your trauma, and that can be a heavy thing to accept. But the truth is, it’s not about erasing the trauma so much as it is about releasing it. When you release your grip on it, you’re free to see the lessons the trauma can offer. You become a better version of yourself when you work through it.
“Research shows healing from trauma actually makes us more resilient,”2 Jay Shetty shares. “One of the best ways I’ve seen is to also help and serve others who are struggling. When we’re involved in the change and the transformation of others, we start to see its possibility for ourselves.”
You can use the idea of learning, growing, and developing resilience to help you paint a picture of your future self not confined by past experiences, but rather informed by them. Learn to see the signs of trauma and take steps to release it, creating a stronger, better version of yourself.
“Suffering is something we all experience in life at one time or another,” Jay Shetty explains. “You can be consumed by the fire, or you can view it as the fire of the blacksmith’s forge that can help you reshape yourself into someone even stronger and more beautiful.”
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “4 Signs You’re Struggling With Hidden Trauma” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.