For the pupose of simplicity, I am going to focus on two main areas of the brain. First, the cortex (most outer part of the brain) and the limbic (most inner part of the brain). These areas work together regarding memory and trauma.
If, your hand were your brain; your wrist would be your
spinal cord, your thumb folded into the palm as your limbic
area, and your four digits folded over as your cortex.
When are are stressed those four fingers lift up exposing
the limbic area ("Blow your top!"). This matters because,
your cortex includes executive processing and decision-
making. While, your limbic includes emotional regulation
and the fight/flight/freeze reponse.
When the cortex is not maintaining a calm and appropriate response; the limbic area has kicks in to express emotional reactivity and survival mode.
Again, this happens when we are STRESSED.
When a stressful event has been traumatic; our brain repeats this action even when the trauma is no longer occuring. When a person becomes triggered (has reminders of the trauma) which can occur with any or several of the senses (smell being the strongest for memory recall), the trauma reoccurs in the brain.
This is the reason people refer to these events as "It is as if it is happening again/I am back there." The brain is literally reexperiencing the trauma and the cortex is disengaging while the limbic goes into overdrive.
With support, empathy, and coping skills a person can recover in a healthy manner. Eventually, the trauma (if processed) can become a "standard memory" and not cause reexperiencing. However, a person can appear to recover and "go about their lives", largely by avoiding known triggers. When they do experience a trigger, it will still cause the same reexperiencing of that trauma. Potentially, for the rest of their lives or at least until the trauma is processed.
This does not mean fully descrbing the trauma to someone. This can actually lead to retraumatization.
Therapy, has come a long way. It is now better understood, that teaching people to understand their trauma, themselves, and develop coping skills (RESILIENCY) they can recover in a healthy manner, without going into vivid detail about their truamas. As doing so, can cause reexperiencing of that truama.
There is an aspect of trauma that makes it particularly difficult. For some trauma will remain specific to an event, time, place, person, action, etc. For many, trauma will become generalized. This means that someone that is attacked, at first will have anxiety regarding the gender or position of the person that attacked them. Later, it may develop into anyone of the same size/build or smell of their attacker. Eventally, it may become all people are a trigger/reminder of the attack. These people may even become agoraphobic, meaning they do not leave their house, prefer to not leave their house, and takes severe measures to not leave their house.
Trauma tends to have basic symptoms that tend to apply to everyone, but do vary. Some people may have all of these symptoms most of the time, while others may have some of these symptoms some of the time.
These include nightmares, night terrors, anxiety/panic attacks, hypervigilance (paranoia)/increased awareness, flashbacks (think daytime nightmares), poor/limited emotional regulation, depression, increased agitation and/or aggression, and dissociation (feeling numb or losing time). Additional symptoms include denial, shame, guilt, eating dysfunction, sexual dysfunction, self-blame, self-harm, poor or limited concentration/thinking ability, reduced self-esteem, withdrawing from other/society, and avoidance of triggers. This is not an all-inclusive list.
Trauma can lead to a development of and increase of suicidual and homocidal thoughts/tendencies. If you or someone you know is experiencing either of these contact professional help immediately. See Home page for more information about crisis help.
Elevating these symptoms are just one reason to seek help (professional or otherwise). In addition to improving the quality of your life, in the present, you improve your life for the long-term. It has been shown that trauma (due to the physcial manifications of stress) decreases one's medical health, job performance, and quality of relationships. All of which are factors to a long healthy life.
Lastly, trauma often becomes generational. That is, one person can experience a trauma, and it effects everyone in their life. Their anxiety, fears, poor/no coping skills, etc get passed on to the next generation and can lead to trauma in the next genteration. Either by the experience of their family member's unhealthy coping with their trauma (i.e., addiction, violence, depression, anxiety, abuse, etc); OR a lack of learning healthy coping skills from their family member(s) leading to poor resiliency. That means they are more vulnerable to trauma occuring in their lives and developing unhealthy coping skills in lieu of not having any skills.
This is referred to as Complex/Chronic Trauma. This is different from a Simple (Single Incident) Trauma, that occurs with one event of trauma in adulthood. Any time a person has experienced trauma in childhood or multiple incidents of trauma that is considered Complex/Chronic; which requires more time and energy spent developing skills and processing these experiences.
There are many ways of addressing one's trauma symptoms, talk therapy is one method. There is EMDR, medication, trauma-informed yoga, meditation, prayer, somatic therapies, art therapy, DBT & CBT; as well as, developing experimental forms.
It is important to find a method and person(s) that you feel comfortable working with, for best results. Remember, these is a process and it will take time to recover. This is no different than recovering from a physical injury or surgery. Love yourself. If you are having any trouble, seek help from professionals, your religious figure(s), family and friends. Emotional support is the number one factor for healthy recovery from trauma. While it may be scary to consider telling/talking to anyone about what has happen, it may just save your life. It most certainly will, eventually, make your life better.