I suffered from post-traumatic distress disorder after the birth of my first baby. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to realize it and to begin the healing journey.
Having PTSD prevented me from effectively bonding with my newborn and caused problems in my relationship with my husband. The main problem was that my husband and I didn’t know the signs to look for. Had we known, we would’ve been able to find help for me sooner. With all kinds of mental health issues, early intervention is vital for a quicker recovery.
What is trauma?
When most people think about trauma, they assume that an individual would’ve experienced an extreme event like war, natural disaster or abuse. However, according to Medical News Today, ‘trauma is a response to an event that a person finds highly stressful’. So from that definition, even smaller, everyday events can trigger trauma, such as divorce, the death of a loved one, illness, moving to a new location, and childbirth.
It is important to note that not everyone who experiences a stressful event will be traumatized. However, if you do feel it, it is important to have your feelings resolved and find support.
The signs of trauma
1. You have trouble asking for help
When I gave birth to my daughter and I had trouble bonding with her, I didn’t want to admit it to anyone. I had heard about the instant connection that a mother should feel towards her newborn, so when that didn’t happen for me, I was ashamed. I didn’t want to be deemed a detached mother. I pretended I was blissful, but on the inside, I was lost and didn’t know how to ask for support.
Furthermore, for some people, asking for help is almost like surrendering control, and people who experience trauma feel the need to be in charge (see point 4).
2. You have low self-esteem
I have suffered from low self-esteem at various points throughout my whole life, so I thought it was a normal feeling. I didn’t realize that it had gotten worse when I became a mother.
My birth experience left me feeling like my body had let me down and my self-esteem plummeted as a result. I felt completely worthless and incompetent.
Experiencing a traumatic event can seriously impact an individual’s self-esteem as it did for me.
3. You have a need to please others
Experiencing trauma may cause someone to have a constant need to diffuse conflict and earn approval. You try to please everyone to avoid any situation that can cause you to experience stress and anxiety.
My experience with this felt odd for me because I was quite manic going between extremes of lashing out at my husband and then suddenly trying to please him. I felt guilt any time I got angry at him, so I guess I wanted to make it up to him by making sure he was happy, even if it got in the way of my own self-care. I cooked him his favorite meals (even if they were meals I didn’t like), or I made sure I washed all of his clothes (while neglecting my own), or I would tell him not to get up during the night for the baby because I would handle it (even though I was seriously sleep-deprived and needed some reprieve).
It is ok to want to please others, but not when it comes in the way of your own needs, or if you are acting in an inauthentic way.
4. You need to be in control of everything
The need to be in control may come from a traumatic experience where you were left vulnerable and helpless. You may have had an experience where you lost autonomy and were left at the mercy of someone else, so now you need to be in control to avoid having that experience again.
You might try to be in control of someone else’s life, or at work, or you might need to have your house in a particular order; The way you are ‘in control’ can look different for each individual.
For me, I needed to be in complete control of my baby. I didn’t want my husband to make any decisions about raising her, and I felt anguish if other people held her. I didn’t need to be in control of anything else. I guess I felt that I had this one thing in order that couldn’t be taken away from me.
5. You hurt others and yourself
Sometimes when we have unhealed trauma, we can be overly sensitive, causing us to lash out at ourselves or at people around us. Self-harm, negative self-talk, yelling at others, and putting other people down are all signals that you could have trauma.
Remember before how I said I zigzagged between needing to please my husband and lashing out at him? That was two sides of my trauma in a constant battle.
I lashed out at him because I believed my experience was his fault. He didn’t protect me. He should’ve been my advocate. I didn’t yell at him about that or even talk to him about how I felt, I just lashed out at him about the simplest things. If he left a dirty dish in the sink, if he couldn’t hear the baby cry or if he was just too tired during the day, I would scream at him.
Of course, I would then feel very guilty afterward, only to then repeat the cycle later.
I am lucky that I didn’t self-harm. I think I was able to get help early enough. However, when I felt moments of extreme stress or if I re-lived the experience, I became prone to crossing my arms and using my hands to grip and pull my elbows tightly. It helped me come back to reality.
6. You are experiencing unexplained psychological symptoms
Some of the most common signs of trauma are obsessive and compulsive behaviors, irritability, mood swings, and extreme sadness. These manifest in people in different ways, which often appear to be inexplicable. For example, experiencing extreme emotional stress can cause people to develop tics. Or it can make you feel numb to everyday experiences and emotions.
There are many psychological symptoms, so you would need to monitor any behavior that seems unusual. For example, I would have weird episodes where I would stare into space and compulsively move a limb backward and forwards. I remember once I was scratching a dinner plate as fast as I could while staring off into space as I recalled my experience. It was only when my husband asked what I was doing that I was brought back to reality.
If you experience any new or unusual psychological symptoms, that could be a cue to check in with a mental health professional, such as a therapist.
It is true that some of the points in this article aren’t exclusive to people who experience unhealed trauma. For example, a person can have low self-esteem or have trouble asking for help without having experienced any trauma.
However, it is important for us to learn that these symptoms could stem from trauma so we know it is okay to seek support from a trained professional, just in case. I am a massive advocate for therapy and I believe, if you experience any of these symptoms, it can’t hurt to talk through them with a trained counselor.
Being aware of mental health symptoms can be life-saving for you and your loved ones.
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